Football

Messi sizzles with his set-piece specials

Barca talisman's free-kick goal against Atletico is his fifth of the year

Lionel Messi in full flow is one of the most exhilarating sights in football and a threat that puts defences on red alert, but the Barcelona talisman has become just as dangerous from dead-ball situations too.

With a perfectly placed dipping free-kick from 23 metres, Messi beat Atletico Madrid's wall and towering goalkeeper Jan Oblak to earn Barcelona a vital 1-0 win over their La Liga title rivals at Nou Camp on Sunday.

It was a sensational effort which leaves the unbeaten Catalan side eight points clear at the top of the standings.

Oblak got his fingertips to Messi's strike but its power made it impossible to keep out, with the goal being the Argentinian's career 600th for club and country.

DIFFERENT STYLES

It was also the third consecutive game Messi has scored a free-kick, exhibiting three different styles.

Against Girona on Feb 24, the 30-year-old struck a low effort underneath the wall, catching Barcelona's derby rivals by surprise during a 6-1 win.

On Thursday, in the 1-1 draw at Las Palmas, Messi smashed a rising effort from the edge of the box into the top corner, bypassing the wall and leaving goalkeeper Leandro Chichizola with no chance.

His latest strike against Atletico was his fifth free-kick goal in 2018 alone. No other player in Europe has scored as many this season.

The No. 10 had previously scored a high of four free-kicks in a calendar year in 2012.

In February last year against Athletic Bilbao, Messi broke Ronald Koeman's club record of 26 set-piece strikes.

He now has 33 to his name for Barcelona, 24 of those coming in La Liga, and another six with Argentina.

According to former Argentina fitness coach Fernando Signorini, words of advice from national coach Diego Maradona in 2009 helped Messi turn into a deadly set-piece specialist.

In an interview with Spanish TV channel La Sexta, Signorini said Maradona saw Messi leave the field during training due to frustration after missing three free-kicks.

"Maradona hugged him and said, 'You can't tell me that you, on your way to becoming one of the best players in history, are going back to the dressing room because of this nonsense?'

"Maradona told him, 'Listen to me, when you hit the ball, don't take your foot away so soon because if you do, she doesn't know what you want. You have teach her what you want and then she will understand,'" Signorini said.

Nearly a decade on, Messi appears to have mastered the art completely. - REUTERS

Football