WHY IS HE SO HARD TO DEFEND
Lionel Messi has dominated this season in the Champions League, scoring 10 goals with four assists to help Barcelona reach the final against Juventus.
At 27, Messi has had his best Champions League campaign since he scored 14 goals in 2011-12. While he's obviously a deadly finisher, Messi's ball control and touch may be his greatest skills.
In the semifinal against Bayern Munich, Messi scored a classic goal after dropping a defenderwith some slick footwork:
In a great profile on Messi, SI's Liviu Bird describes how Messi has become the world's best dribbler without using the flashy moves of other star players:
He rarely comes to a dead stop to dance on the ball. Instead of rabonas and elásticos, Messi relies on continual movement, body feints, agile touches and a quick change of pace to leave defenders in the dust.
Messi's deft footwork and omniscience on the field — he seems to know what defenders will do before even they do — often evades description as he evades opponents. He makes professionals look amateur, both those who are compared to him and those trying in vain to mark him.
Messi has his own gravitational pull, causing rational defenses to panic and individuals to stumble over themselves — a sensation Jérôme Boateng knows all too well — in an attempt to stifle him. As soon as they lunge, thinking the ball is within tackling distance, he taps it from left foot to right foot, and he’s gone.
As The Telegraph notes, Messi doesn't get caught up in flurries of step-overs or tricks — his attacking runs are direct. Perhaps it's this downhill style of attack that makes him so tough to defend. Defenses have to adjust to his speed, and if they miss the ball, they end up looking foolish.
In 2007, Messi produced perhaps the highlight goal of his career, sprinting through six Getafe defenders from beyond midfield:
His "gravitational pull" also allows him to set up teammates after he's sucked in defenses and blown by them:
As Juventus goalie Gianliugi Buffon recently said of Messi's otherworldly play: "Messi is an extra-terrestrial who plays with us humans. So we hope that on June 6 he returns to earth and becomes a human too."