Ale Moreno showers Kylian Mbappe with praise after his performance in Paris Saint-Germain’s 1-0 win over Real Madrid in Champions League. (1:11)
When it comes to Lionel Messi‘s all-round footballing ability, it’s hard to point out too many weaknesses. The Paris Saint-Germain forward, who has scored 759 goals in 957 games across a trophy-laden career, probably doesn’t require many pointers when it comes to tightening up his game. The 5-foot-7 forward even scored a header in the 2009 Champions League final for Barcelona, so you can’t say he doesn’t carry an aerial threat.
However, this week’s heavyweight clash with Real Madrid showed that, if there is one area in which Messi does not excel, it’s scoring from the penalty spot. The Argentina captain saw his latest spot-kick attempt saved by Thibaut Courtois during PSG’s 1-0 win Tuesday in the round-of-16 first leg.
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That was the 30th time that Messi has not scored from 12 yards in his career (per ESPN Stats & Information, not including shootouts). It also drew him level with Thierry Henry as the player to have failed in converting the most penalties in regulation time in Champions League history, with both players fluffing their lines five times.
After the match, the 34-year-old was given an underwhelming 3/10 rating from French newspaper L’Equipe — by far the lowest ranking of any PSG player.
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Despite scoring seven goals in 20 appearances for PSG since joining them on a free transfer in the summer, Messi has been attracting criticism for his PSG performances of late, with certain sections of the French press singling him out for a perceived failure to deliver since arriving at the Parc des Princes.
This led to an impassioned defence from one of his oldest comrades as Sergio Aguero spoke up for his former teammate, with whom he had played alongside for Argentina for almost two decades.
“Leo played really well, he broke the lines,” Aguero said on his Twitch channel while discussing the PSG-Madrid match. “It’s not because he’s a friend, but because he played hard. He was good and very active.
“In France, the magazines and newspapers killed him. I had an opportunity for an interview with a magazine in France. But I said no because I support Leo Messi. Goodbye, see you soon. Now I’m angry.”
Failing to score 30 penalties might sound like a lot taken out of context. However, it should be noted that at club level Messi has taken 110 penalties and scored 84 of them, and at international level he’s taken a further 22 and scored 18 from the spot. That’s a combined record of 132 taken, 102 scored and 30 missed — a tally that is certainly not exceptional, though nor is it particularly atrocious.
It gives Messi a career penalty success rate of 77.3% which rather than being “poor” is actually merely average. In fact, the average penalty conversion rate when it comes to Europe’s top five leagues since 2006-07 is 77.1%.
In domestic league and Champions League data collected since 2010, Messi has scored 80% of his penalty shots (69 scored from 86 taken). The average in Europe’s top five leagues and the Champions League in that span is 77%, meaning his conversion rate is slightly above average within those specific parameters.
Messi’s very best season for penalty goals came in 2011-12 when he set personal records for most spot kicks scored in the league (10), in all club competitions with Barca (14), and for club and country combined (15) — from an overall total of 19 attempts (17 club, two international).
The most penalties Messi has ever missed in one single club season is four during the 2015-16 campaign, when the Barcelona star attempted eight in total and spurned precisely half of them.
Messi tends to fare better from the spot when he opts for the right-hand side of the goal, with league and Champions League data collated since 2010 showing that he scores the most penalties when he goes that way.
Of the 69 penalties he has successfully scored in that time, Messi hit the right-hand third of the goal 33 times, compared with 20 on the left and 16 straight down the middle.
Thibaut Courtois has saved each of the last 3 penalties he’s faced (Today, Jan. 8 vs VAL, Jan. 16 vs ATH)
Today was the 2nd time in Lionel Messi’s career that he failed to convert a penalty vs Courtois (also in the 2013 Supercopa de España) pic.twitter.com/wSImNs2L2a
Thibaut Courtois is one of only three goalkeepers to have been facing Messi when he has failed to convert from the penalty spot during his career, with the Belgium international pulling off his save Tuesday while Messi missed the target with the other.
Former Rayo Vallecano goalkeeper Ruben Martinez has an identical record against the former Barca man (one miss, one save) while Espanyol shot-stopper Diego Lopez is the only keeper to have actively saved two Messi penalties.
🔵🔴 Leo Messi free-kick 🔥#UCL | @FCBarcelona pic.twitter.com/gwtsDp8pnF
While his penalty record is distinctly average, Messi can at least take solace in the fact that when it comes to set pieces he’s not a total dud. Indeed, he can actually count himself as one of the finest dead-ball specialists in the world, if not the very best.
His shot conversion rate from free kicks in league and Champions League play since 2010 is 9%, having scored 48 from 524 attempts. This ratio rises impressively if you take his stats from the start of the 2018-19 season, since when Messi has scored 19 goals from 117 free kicks.
This stands in stark comparison to his longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored precisely one direct free kick since he signed for Juventus in July 2018, despite taking well over 70 in that time. However, Manchester United forward Ronaldo has the far superior penalty record, netting 143 of his 172 attempts (83.1%) in senior matches over his career.
Perhaps we are looking at one of football’s great anomalies: With just 12 yards of distance and only one player to beat, Messi is nowhere near as comfortable with his aim as when he is 10 yards further back with a wall of defenders in front of him.
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report