How To Stop Leo Messi? Try If You Can!

Below are the feedback from six defenders who have tried to 'stop' Barcelona's Lionel Messi in La Liga and they recall on how they approached the most difficult job in football.

Keep an eye on him even when you have possession
"The thing that is most striking about Leo Messi for me is the fact that you have to be so careful of him when you have the ball. Because Barcelona steal the ball back so quickly and take advantage of those spaces you leave with incredible speed, you need to be aware of Messi at all times. Normally when a team wins the ball, they think about attacking. Against Barcelona, you have to be attentive and alert to Messi instead. Communication is vital between team-mates to make sure there is always someone very near him and that, collectively, you are well positioned to deny him space. Not just when he has the ball but in case he gets the ball. You cannot leave him alone at any time because he's so swift. If he catches you at all out of position, you are in real trouble. The hardest thing when you play him is maintaining that level of intense concentration throughout the game. You almost have to forget about playing. Barcelona rob the ball so high and move so quick, they are almost as dangerous without the ball as with it." - Andoni Iraola, Athletic Bilbao
Stop him getting the ball by anticipating passes to him
"There isn't a secret formula for stopping Leo Messi, unfortunately. He has such variety that there are many ways that he can get free and make things happen. Once he has the ball at his feet it is very hard to prevent him punishing you so you have to try to make sure that he cannot receive the ball in the first place. You need to anticipate and get in ahead of him. That is hard because he moves all over the pitch and becomes very involved so you have to defend as a very compact unit and prevent him having spaces into which he can run. He is very, very fast with the ball at his feet." - Gonzalo Rodríguez, Villarreal
Show him outside away from your penalty area
"We have really suffered from Leo Messi. They beat us 8-0 in the league and 5-0 and 3-0 in the Copa del Rey, so maybe I'm not the best person to explain how to stop him! He is a very complete player who has the kind of dribbling skills that make him very hard to stop. If he gets one-on-one against you, you have problems. He has a great deal of variety in the way he carries the ball. His control is very good, the ball stays very close to him, and he is extremely quick. You can't offer him the chance to come inside into space. You have to try to keep him as far away from your area as possible and when he starts to attack you, you have to try to show him outside - that is an unnatural movement for him. You have to watch him very closely and make sure he doesn't have that space to exploit - and in his case it only needs to be the tiniest space. It's very, very hard to stop him. As we found out." - Juanma Ortiz, Almería
Stay narrow to ensure he doesn't isolate one player
"If Messi gets one-on-one he is almost impossible to stop. If you find yourself in that position the key is always to try to show him outside, away from goal. You have to offer him that passageway in the hope that he doesn't take the inside option, but it is risky. Above all, though, you have to try to make sure that he doesn't isolate a solitary defender. Against Barcelona, you have to play with the lines very close together and the players quite narrow. You play with pressure and intensity, to try to prevent them from playing and that's true of Messi too - he is best if you can stop him receiving the ball in comfort. You can't try to put two or three players on him, though, because if you do that you will leave space for others, for Villa or Pedro or for the midfielders coming through. Communication is very important. Messi plays nominally as a centre-forward but he drops deep to receive possession and get involved. The centre-back cannot afford to follow him out, because if he does he just leaves space for someone else to take advantage of. You have to then pass him on to another player to pick up as he enters into their zone. That's why it is vital that the collective organisation is good - and the communication too." - Ricardo Costa, Valencia
Don't try to kick him out of the game – you will fail
"Leo Messi is more complete than Cristiano Ronaldo and harder to stop. He is harder to stop because it is not just about him. Ronaldo is a more individual player who looks to go one-on-one against you and that makes him predictable, up to a point. Messi is different: he looks to run at you, or play the one-two, or simply keep the move going. He is harder to second-guess. And if he does go at you, the combination of speed and control is astonishing. Ronaldo runs at you and plays very physically. Messi will avoid the contact if he can; he will evade you. There are players who pick up more fouls than Messi, like Ronaldo, but that is not because no one tries to foul Messi; it is because their characteristics invite fouls more. You can't foul Messi! Two touches and he's gone. Better is to try to make sure that he only receives the ball with his back to goal and unable to turn; if he turns and faces you, if he can see all his options clearly, he is very dangerous. Messi can employ any option that presents itself to him and if not, invent something totally new. He is different from all the rest." - Javier Chica, Espanyol
Watch his team-mates - he uses them to his advantage
"The thing that makes Messi so striking is that he is so different. Modern football is set up for big players, strong ones, athletes. And then you have Messi. He doesn't fit the characteristics of the modern game at all: with him it's about mobility, positioning and precision. That changes your whole mind-set. Defenders are set up - mentally, tactically, physically - to stop a certain type of player, an identity of footballer that just isn't the case with Messi. That forces you to be 100% focused all the time, at every minute, because as soon as you are out of position he takes advantage. That can be very hard mentally. The other problem is that we are talking about a player within a great team. So if you focus only on him, someone else will catch you. He knows how to use his team-mates to his advantage and also how to help them take advantage. He is not a player that dribbles a lot in the traditional sense of going round players; he goes past them instead with incredible speed and control. It's about mobility rather than fancy tricks. He is not trying to confuse you, he is just very, very hard to stop: it is one thing knowing what he does and how, in theory, to stop that; it's another actually succeeding. He is a great, great player - one of the best in history." - Julien Escude, Sevilla

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