Messi, Ward-Prowse, Dybala: Who is the best free-kick taker in Europe?

Lionel Messi scores a free kick against Athletic Bilbao

With the exception of his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona legend Lionel Messi will always be remembered for being a cut above the rest that the beautiful game has to offer.

One only need look at his succession of Ballon d'Or trophies or watch him for a handful of games to realise the Argentine forward who team-mate Gerard Pique once described as an alien does indeed appear to possess otherworldly talents.

So perhaps unsurprisingly, free kicks are proving to be another area where Messi is head and shoulders above the competition - including the aforementioned Juventus star. 

On Sunday night, Messi scored a stunning free kick against Athletic Bilbao that was so good it even beat the man on the line, who was specifically put there to stop the Barcelona star curling one into the top corner.

Messi seemed to almost mock the Bilbao defender by sticking the ball right above his head, which marked the 33-year-old's 21st free kick goal in league action during the last five seasons.* 

Free kick goals last five seasons

And if that return seems pretty impressive by itself, it only becomes more so after it's compared to the rest of Europe, courtesy of ESPN.

Indeed, it turns out that Messi has scored almost three times as many free kick goals as the two players who rank second for strikes from such scenarios, with Southampton's James Ward-Prowse and Inter Milan's Aleksandar Kolarov netting eight each. 

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They're then followed up Juve man Paolo Dybala and Celta Vigo talisman Iago Aspas, while four players - including Real Betis' Nabil Fekir and Villarreal's Dani Parejo - are all tied on six free kick goals apiece. 

Ronaldo, meanwhile, is nowhere to be seen and ESPN have since revealed that the former Real Madrid front man has just one free kick goal to his name since 2018. It's a good job he insists on taking any free kick that's within 50 yards of goal then.

In fairness, he might as well at this point - Ronaldo's going to need to take every opportunity he can get to catch up with Messi any time soon.

*All stats correct as of 31/1/2021

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