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Can Lionel Messi be stopped?

Pablo Maffeo’s man-marking job on Lionel Messi in Saturday’s Catalan derby certainly got people talking. The Manchester City loanee successfully kept the Argentine out of the game, though Barca did still go on to win 3-0. Maffeo’s performance has now got people wondering how successful man-marking can be against the diminutive Argentine.

It is often said that Messi is simply unplayable on his day. Saturday though, was not his day, with Maffeo reusing to give the forward room to scratch his… nose. Thanks to Maffeo, Messi failed to make an impression on the game.

It is of course not the first time that Messi has been stifled by an opposing player. In the recent Spanish Super Cup, Mateo Kovacic could be seen keeping a very close eye on the Argentinian international, forcing the Barca man very deep to receive the ball and thus diminishing Barca’s attacking threat significantly.

Back in 2007, Alvaro Arbeloa, then of Liverpool, was one of the first players to be given the job of stopping Messi. “Rafa Benitez came up to me and told me that I was going to be playing left-back. He is a left-footer who plays on the right and we knew that he would come inside every time he had the opportunity. I was a right-footer and as such it was easier to cut him off. It worked well,” Arbeloa recalls. The defender was right, Liverpool knocked Barca out of the Champions League and Messi was largely anonymous.

Between 2007 and 2017, many players have tried to deal with Messi’s threat, though very few have succeeded.

In 2011, Jose Mourinho gave Pepe the task of keeping Messi quiet and it worked… until the 30-year-old picked up the ball on halfway, embarked on a trademark dribble and found the net.

Despite the goal, Pepe’s efforts successfully frustrated Messi and at the very least reduced his impact.

The previous year, Sokratis Papastathopoulos frustrated Messi to such an extent that the Argentine sought refuge out on the right wing, abandoning his striking role.

Almost anything goes when it comes to stopping Messi. With Diego Simeone often pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable.

Even Ernesto Valverde has tried and failed to stop Messi in the past, giving Mikel Balenziaga the task in the 2015 Copa Del Rey final between Barca and Athletic Bilbao. Though Messi was just too good for his opponent on that occasion.

Put simply, there is no one way of stopping Lionel Messi and as was the case on Saturday, if you do manage to keep him quiet, it is often a case of winning the battle but losing the war.

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