If Lionel Messi Is Superman, What Is His Kryptonite?

Tre' Atkinson@@TreAtkinsonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2013

If Lionel Messi Is Superman, What Is His Kryptonite?

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    What more can be said about Lionel Messi?

    He is simply the best player in the world and arguably the greatest that will ever play the game.

    With every game, Lionel Messi continues to leave fans speechless. Coming off of a 91-goal year and winning his fourth consecutive Ballon d’Or, Messi is football’s version of Superman.

    However, if Messi’s Superman there must be Kryptonite to stop him.

    What are the traits or tactics that have successfully slowed down Messi’s onslaught on the football world? Surely, there must be something that teams can do to at least contain the Barcelona star.

    In this article we will cover the various things that have slowed Lionel Messi down in his career and given him the hardest time while on the pitch.

    Though slowing Messi down is the best a team can hope for, stopping him is impossible.

    With that being said, let’s begin. 

His Size

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    If there is one aspect of Lionel Messi that can be seen as lacking, it is his size. Standing at only 5’7”, very few players on the pitch are smaller than the Argentine.

    Because of his size, Messi does suffer from not being able to jump as high or play in the air as well as other players. Despite the impressive headers that he has scored, heading is not a strong point in Lionel Messi’s game.

    Yet his size causes more problems than just his play in the air.

    Being so small, Messi is more susceptible to physical defenders. Granted, the Blaugrana ace rarely gets injured, but it is still easier for defenders to slow him down using their advantage in size.

    Defenders can use their stature and strength to cause Messi problems, push him around, and simply aggravate him. Again, they cannot stop the Argentine, but slowing him down is a great start.

    However, his lack of size has also helped his game. Messi is faster and harder to keep up with. His low center of gravity also makes it difficult to knock him to the ground.

    But no matter the strengths that his size gives him, Messi is often at a disadvantage when facing physically stronger opponents.

Underperforming Teammates

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    There is an age-old argument claiming that either Barcelona is nothing without Lionel Messi, or that Messi is nothing without Barcelona. However you look at it, the argument contains some truth.

    Simply put, every player is reliant on their teammates to a certain extent, and every club relies on their biggest stars. It is how the game works. If not for teammates and superstars, football would not be what it is today.

    But we have seen that Messi’s game does suffer whenever his teammates are not at their best, especially the attackers.

    Although Messi normally carries Barcelona when the team is not on form, it is clear that his play suffers. Messi may look great when saving the team in a tough match, but he is visibly at his best when Barcelona is performing as a whole.

    Just in this New Year alone, Barcelona has been in the best form of the season. And with that has come some of the very best overall performances we have seen from Messi.

    He is able to beat opponents not only by scoring, but also setting up teammates, as seen with his beautiful pass to Cesc Fábregas against Malaga on January 13th. It is clear Messi can do much more than score; he is a creator as well.

    Teams are quickly starting to realize that shutting down Messi’s options leaves him alone to carry to team. And while the Argentine has often put his team on his back, clubs will continue to take their chances, rather than letting the entire Barcelona team play.

Opponents Who Utilize Smart Fouling

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    There is one brilliant way that teams have begun to slow down Messi as of late. Opponents are utilizing a method of smart fouling to make sure that the Argentine does not get anything easy.

    To clarify, smart fouling is not purposefully fouling Messi for the sake of taking him out of the game. Rather, it's simply things such as shirt pulling that slow the play down and force Barcelona to restart the ball.

    If Messi is on a run towards goal, why wouldn’t a defender simply pull his jersey to stop play? It is not actually a dirty move; it is quite smart. It stops Messi from any chance he would have had of scoring and allows the defense to regroup.

    While this tactic is very useful for stopping Messi in the moment, it does very little over the course of a full match.

    Defenders will continue to use this method while it benefits them, but they must realize that it is not a solution. While trying to find Messi’s Kryptonite, smart fouling may just be one piece of the full puzzle.

    For a visible example of smart fouling, check out this clip from Argentina’s game against Portugal, featuring none other than Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Parking the Bus

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    Lionel Messi’s main Kryptonite just so happens to be the same as the Barcelona team as a whole. The parked-bus mentality has caused Barcelona to struggle on many occasions and may be the defenders' only option.

    The world saw what the parked bus could do against Messi last year, when Chelsea eliminated the Catalans from the Champions League (via Foxsports).

    This defensive tactic basically nullifies Messi’s style of play. Defenders are organized, aggressive and do not allow space for opponents to work. In fact, this method has seemingly begun to irritate Messi (via Mirror).

    Despite the negativity of the parked-bus defensive scheme, it will continue to be used. It is the closest thing to Kryptonite that exists for Lionel Messi, and if clubs can win while using it, they will.

    Combining physicality with great organization in defense is what every club should do, not only to stop Messi but against opponents in general. However, it is when teams decide that every player will be brought back to defend that this method goes too far.

    Parking the bus does not always work, but it has been successfully used enough for it to be seen as the best attempt in slowing down Lionel Messi.

Is the Kryptonite Working?

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    As I said earlier, there is no stopping Lionel Messi; there is only slowing him down. Though things exist that can weaken the play of the world’s best player, none of them keep him from greatness.

    Defenders will continue to look for ways to slow, stifle and stunt the play of Lionel. But there appears to be no way of actually stopping him.

    Clubs may try to group these elements together, but even that may not work. The fact of the matter is, the Kryptonite will never be strong enough to stop football’s Superman.

    So with that being said, defenders, try your best. Give all you have to make sure Messi does not leave you as another casualty, but be warned that you will never have the last laugh.

    Lionel Messi refuses to quit and only continues to get better. That is what makes him the great performer that he is. So to the viewers, enjoy this era. A player like Messi may never come again.

    Let us all enjoy the brilliance that is Lionel Messi.

    What do you think is the best way to slow down Messi? Is there a way to actually stop the Barcelona star? Don’t forget to leave your thoughts and comments below.

    Tre’ Atkinson, The Catalan Blood of Bleacher Report. 

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