Blog Lionel Messi doesnt need the ball to hurt you

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“You must walk like a camel,” Henry David Thoreau advised, “which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking.”

Let’s see if we can get over that hump.

Picking at the seams

Sometimes that’s easy: the other team might assign one player to follow him everywhere he goes. It rarely works.

Take the following play from the opening minutes of Argentina’s tournament. Saudi Arabia are defending with a high back four, leaving space for Argentina’s runners — Angel Di Maria on the right-wing and Lautaro Martinez in the middle — to get in behind.

Thirteen seconds later…

“Just by moving two paces,” Guardiola wrote in his 2001 autobiography La Meva Gent, El Meu Futbol (My People, My Football), “I could radically change the game’s rhythm.”

Taking space, making space

Personal magnetism

Playing in the shadows

Oh, you sweet thing.

By constantly floating into positions where opponents can’t see him and the ball at the same time, he disappears in plain sight.

Arriving fashionably late

Occupying space in the penalty area is hopeless for a 5ft 7in (170.2cm) forward — if you stand around waiting for the ball, a centre-back will find you first — but arriving in space is harder to stop.

“I used to say in Manchester that the last player to arrive to the box is the first one to be able to shoot,” Guardiola’s former assistant Juanma Lillo explains. “I tell that to my strikers all the time: the closer you get to the goal, the further you are from scoring.”

Standing still in transition

It would have been his first touch in the whole possession.

The art of walking

He’ll pick at the defensive seams between Theo Hernandez, Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano (assuming they’re fit). He’ll make Upamecano choose between chasing him into midfield or guarding the space behind. He’ll wander deep into midfield. He’ll hide behind the centre-backs. He’ll arrive in the box at the last second. He’ll orchestrate counter-attacks while standing still.

None of these tricks are hard to spot if you pay attention to him. But when everyone else is running one way and he’s walking the other, it’s hard for defenders to keep him in their sights.

Thoreau figured he had “met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of walking, that is, of taking walks, — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering.”

On Sunday, the world will see another.

Additional Reading 

(Photos: Getty Images; design: Sam Richardson)