Skip to content
Being Messi’s shadow

Many have tried to stop Leo Messi; few have succeed. When given the task last weekend, Girona’s manager Pablo Machín went for the most pragmatic of options.

If Leo Messi stepped to the right, so did Pablo Maffeo. If Messi stepped to the left, so did Maffeo. If Messi dropped down to receive the ball, Maffeo would follow. If Messi made a run forward, Maffeo would chase him. The 20-year-old player for Girona — loaned from Manchester City, the club that recently bought a major stake in this LaLiga side — had received clear orders from his manager: he had to be Messi’s shadow.

Girona were clear underdogs when facing Barcelona last Saturday. As most of the teams that face the giants Real Madrid or Barça, Girona were expected to put on a huge defensive effort in order to hold back an opposition with more technical and unpredictable players. But besides the usual collective work, there was one specific aspect that stood out. Pablo Machín, Girona’s manager, had tried to stop Barça’s most virtuous player with football’s most pragmatic option: man marking.

It could be argued that Maffeo succeeded in his mission; Messi’s direct involvement in the game was significantly reduced. The Argentinian hardly posed any danger in open plays. It was only when taking free kicks or corners that he had space to breath. But as the match went on, Messi found ways of taking advantage of the situation: by moving around the pitch and sometimes falling into an offside position on purpose, which not only made Maffeo’s job more difficult, but also created spaces for his teammates to exploit. And so Even though Messi was partially eclipsed, Girona could not stop Barcelona and lost 3-0 at home.

Ernesto Valverde, Barcelona’s manager, was asked about the non-stop man-marking at the press conference:

“When it comes to Messi, you can always expect a man-marking.

“We had to take advantage of the opportunities that a man-marking generates. It is truth that this situation influences the player that is being marked, but it can also create spaces.

“I talked to Messi about his positioning. It was not about where to put Messi, but about where to take his mark so that we could hurt them."

During the 79 minutes that they spent together, Messi and Maffeo had time to start brief conversations while not on the ball. Just as the match started, Maffeo let Leo know that he was going to chase him all around. ‘Sorry, but this is what the manager has asked me to do’, he told him. When talking to the press after the game, Maffeo said that Messi had asked him if he was on loan from Manchester City and how old he was.

When Maffeo was subbed off in the second half, he talked to his teammates on the bench about his chats with Leo. The cameras got him saying that Messi had told him that ‘playing like this is shit.’ Following the final whistle, they both shook hands and Maffeo, just as if he was a spy in a movie, reiterated to his new friend that he was just following orders. Messi smiled. They did not exchange shirts because Maffeo had to accomplish another mission: he had promised to a close friend of his that he would get him Ter Stegen’s shirt. “Messi is the best player in the world, but friends come first,” he would later say in the mixed zone.

This, of course, was not nearly first man-marking on Messi. Barça’s number 10 had been in this situation before, but Maffeo’s already ranks as one of the best attempts to stop him.

Photo by Alejandro Garcia/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9071434c)

 
Icon / Social / Android@3x Created with Sketch. Icons/Attachment/1000 Created with Sketch. Icons/Attachment/1000 Created with Sketch. Icon / Social / iOS@3x Created with Sketch. echllogoeps Created with Sketch. Group 18 Copy Created with Sketch. 53079FE7-D159-40A0-8A83-26281B0D3D33 Created with sketchtool. 976DC860-943B-432F-9E9C-CB9AC395B97F Created with sketchtool. 172C4F03-2B22-49FE-A880-A4C1985B19F7 Created with sketchtool. 53079FE7-D159-40A0-8A83-26281B0D3D33 Created with sketchtool. 976DC860-943B-432F-9E9C-CB9AC395B97F Created with sketchtool. 172C4F03-2B22-49FE-A880-A4C1985B19F7 Created with sketchtool. 45E49ECC-5769-44F4-97EA-EDE23E5CB428 Created with sketchtool. CC731668-0119-48B2-B401-BACA731EA471 Created with sketchtool. 0CCDF29C-1F7C-4F46-921A-EC230ACEE372 Created with sketchtool. 9EE80E93-DA55-44A3-BB86-719DDC115D67 Created with sketchtool. 86A6C4DD-D877-4C22-A527-8B9666AA9DD0 Created with sketchtool. 9EE80E93-DA55-44A3-BB86-719DDC115D67 Created with sketchtool. 42E886A7-7224-4FDC-BBEB-01976002C351 Created with sketchtool. C38CE427-9814-4B47-91C9-66896A6EB2BE Created with sketchtool. C38CE427-9814-4B47-91C9-66896A6EB2BE Created with sketchtool. C38CE427-9814-4B47-91C9-66896A6EB2BE Created with sketchtool. 40C8A19E-A06F-4836-ABD8-C5AE68BC33DB Created with sketchtool. 763B01E1-3D00-402A-B0C3-1DD729BBA531 Created with sketchtool. 644E21E0-3CB1-4F6B-B321-22391C0CD429 Created with sketchtool. team-logo / WIN Created with Sketch. team-logo / PW Created with Sketch. team-logo / LOST Created with Sketch. team-logo / PL Created with Sketch. 0CCDF29C-1F7C-4F46-921A-EC230ACEE372 Created with sketchtool. 033561FA-5AC5-424E-BFCB-752595AE0B20 Created with sketchtool. 45E49ECC-5769-44F4-97EA-EDE23E5CB428 Created with sketchtool. CC731668-0119-48B2-B401-BACA731EA471 Created with sketchtool. 0CCDF29C-1F7C-4F46-921A-EC230ACEE372 Created with sketchtool. 9EE80E93-DA55-44A3-BB86-719DDC115D67 Created with sketchtool. 86A6C4DD-D877-4C22-A527-8B9666AA9DD0 Created with sketchtool. 9EE80E93-DA55-44A3-BB86-719DDC115D67 Created with sketchtool. 53079FE7-D159-40A0-8A83-26281B0D3D33 Created with sketchtool. 976DC860-943B-432F-9E9C-CB9AC395B97F Created with sketchtool. 172C4F03-2B22-49FE-A880-A4C1985B19F7 Created with sketchtool. 45E49ECC-5769-44F4-97EA-EDE23E5CB428 Created with sketchtool. CC731668-0119-48B2-B401-BACA731EA471 Created with sketchtool. 9EE80E93-DA55-44A3-BB86-719DDC115D67 Created with sketchtool. 86A6C4DD-D877-4C22-A527-8B9666AA9DD0 Created with sketchtool. 9EE80E93-DA55-44A3-BB86-719DDC115D67 Created with sketchtool. 42E886A7-7224-4FDC-BBEB-01976002C351 Created with sketchtool. C38CE427-9814-4B47-91C9-66896A6EB2BE Created with sketchtool. C38CE427-9814-4B47-91C9-66896A6EB2BE Created with sketchtool. C38CE427-9814-4B47-91C9-66896A6EB2BE Created with sketchtool. 40C8A19E-A06F-4836-ABD8-C5AE68BC33DB Created with sketchtool. 763B01E1-3D00-402A-B0C3-1DD729BBA531 Created with sketchtool. 644E21E0-3CB1-4F6B-B321-22391C0CD429 Created with sketchtool. 033561FA-5AC5-424E-BFCB-752595AE0B20 Created with sketchtool. 45E49ECC-5769-44F4-97EA-EDE23E5CB428 Created with sketchtool. CC731668-0119-48B2-B401-BACA731EA471 Created with sketchtool. 763B01E1-3D00-402A-B0C3-1DD729BBA531 Created with sketchtool. C38CE427-9814-4B47-91C9-66896A6EB2BE Created with sketchtool. C38CE427-9814-4B47-91C9-66896A6EB2BE Created with sketchtool. C38CE427-9814-4B47-91C9-66896A6EB2BE Created with sketchtool. 40C8A19E-A06F-4836-ABD8-C5AE68BC33DB Created with sketchtool. 763B01E1-3D00-402A-B0C3-1DD729BBA531 Created with sketchtool. 644E21E0-3CB1-4F6B-B321-22391C0CD429 Created with sketchtool. 7CB4E955-9512-49F4-B03B-933CF03CA2FD Created with sketchtool. 53079FE7-D159-40A0-8A83-26281B0D3D33 Created with sketchtool. 976DC860-943B-432F-9E9C-CB9AC395B97F Created with sketchtool. 172C4F03-2B22-49FE-A880-A4C1985B19F7 Created with sketchtool. 45E49ECC-5769-44F4-97EA-EDE23E5CB428 Created with sketchtool. CC731668-0119-48B2-B401-BACA731EA471 Created with sketchtool. 0CCDF29C-1F7C-4F46-921A-EC230ACEE372 Created with sketchtool. 9EE80E93-DA55-44A3-BB86-719DDC115D67 Created with sketchtool. 86A6C4DD-D877-4C22-A527-8B9666AA9DD0 Created with sketchtool. 9EE80E93-DA55-44A3-BB86-719DDC115D67 Created with sketchtool. 42E886A7-7224-4FDC-BBEB-01976002C351 Created with sketchtool. C38CE427-9814-4B47-91C9-66896A6EB2BE Created with sketchtool. C38CE427-9814-4B47-91C9-66896A6EB2BE Created with sketchtool. C38CE427-9814-4B47-91C9-66896A6EB2BE Created with sketchtool. 40C8A19E-A06F-4836-ABD8-C5AE68BC33DB Created with sketchtool. 763B01E1-3D00-402A-B0C3-1DD729BBA531 Created with sketchtool. 644E21E0-3CB1-4F6B-B321-22391C0CD429 Created with sketchtool. 033561FA-5AC5-424E-BFCB-752595AE0B20 Created with sketchtool. 033561FA-5AC5-424E-BFCB-752595AE0B20 Created with sketchtool. Icons/Search/1000 F3916FC0-768E-4027-A1D5-CC66110459CF Created with sketchtool. Play Artboard 1 icon-dropdown icon-dropdown Created with Sketch. CB_Linked_Icon_Close CB_Linked_Icon_Close Check Check F896540F-C96F-4488-888D-5ECB022F43CE Created with sketchtool. CB_Linked_Icon_Arrow CB_Linked_Icon_Arrow CB_Linked_Icon_Arrow