Lionel Messi's debut 16 years on: The staggering numbers behind a genius

By Sports Desk October 16, 2020

It was 16 years to the day since the world was first treated to a competitive glimpse of Lionel Messi as a fresh-faced teenager in the famous Barcelona jersey.

Few could have imagined that his appearance as an 82nd-minute substitute for match-winner Deco in a 1-0 victory at Espanyol would be the first step towards a career many consider the greatest of all time.

Since that day, Messi has won 10 LaLiga titles, the Copa del Rey six times and the Champions League on four occasions, as well as becoming an unprecedented six-time winner of the prestigious Ballon d'Or award.

To mark the anniversary of Messi's LaLiga debut, we have analysed the Opta numbers behind a genius. 


A CLASS OF HIS OWN

During his 16 years in Barca's first team, Messi has become the club's all-time leading goalscorer with a whopping 635 in total.

Of that number, 445 have come in LaLiga, which means he also has the most in the history of Spain's top flight. Messi has 115 in the Champions League, 53 in the Copa del Rey, 14 in the Supercopa, three in the UEFA Super Cup and five in the Club World Cup.

His first Barcelona goal came against Albacete on May 1, 2005, with fellow superstar Ronaldinho setting him up.

The Argentina great enjoyed his most prolific campaign in the 2011-12 campaign, when he scored 73 goals across all competitions for Barcelona. There were an eye-watering 79 across the calendar year in 2012.

As well as his extraordinary goals return, Messi also has 254 assists for Barca – 183 of which have come in LaLiga and 33 in the Champions League.


LOVE FOR PEP, TITO AND SEVILLA 

It should come as little surprise that some of Messi's best returns in a Barca jersey have come playing in the golden era of Pep Guardiola.

In total, Messi had 211 goals and 79 assists in 219 games played under the now-Manchester City manager – an average of 0.96 goals per game.

He also excelled under Luis Enrique, winning the second of his career trebles. There were 153 goals, 66 assists and a goals-per-game ratio of 0.97 in that period.

But it was actually Tito Vilanova for whom Messi returned the best goals per game, a mind-boggling 1.2, having scored 60 in 50 appearances.

As many as 79 different teams have conceded to Messi but none have picked the ball out of the net on more occasions against the Argentina great than Sevilla, who have done so 37 times.

Atletico Madrid are not far behind on 32, while Valencia have conceded 28 times to Messi and fierce rivals Real Madrid 26 – making him the highest scorer in Clasico history.


LUCKLESS ALVEZ, SUAREZ AFFINITY AND GLORY AT THE BERNABEU

Not many goalkeepers can say they have got the better of Messi and Diego Alves in particular has not enjoyed encounters against the mercurial forward.

Messi scored past the former Valencia stopper on 21 occasions, with Gorka Iraizoz next on the list - having shipped 18 to the Argentina captain. Iker Casillas and Andres Fernandez have been beaten 17 times.

At Barca, Messi has played alongside some of the best players of his, or indeed any, generation.

But no player has assisted Messi more than Luis Suarez, who has now left Barca for Atleti, with the Uruguay star setting up his former team-mate on 47 occasions.

Dani Alves ranks second on 42, with Andres Iniesta and Xavi laying on 37 and 31 respectively.

Camp Nou is of course the venue where Messi has scored the majority of his goals but the Santiago Bernabeu is next highest, with the 33-year-old having celebrated 15 strikes there.

The Riazor is where Messi has his best goals-per-game ratio at 1.63, scoring 13 times in eight games played at the home of Deportivo La Coruna.


THE OPTA FACTS

- Messi is the all-time LaLiga scorer with 445 goals, becoming second-highest scorer in the top-five European leagues after Cristiano Ronaldo (450). 

- Since 2008-09 to 2019-20, Messi has scored 30-plus goals in each of his 12 campaigns.   

- He is the only player to score 10-plus goals in LaLiga in 14 consecutive seasons, netting 50 goals in 2011-12, the most by a player in a single season in the competition's history. 

- Messi scored in 21 consecutive LaLiga games between November 2012 and May 2013, the best run of any player in Spain's top flight. 

- As well as being the all-time top-scorer in El Clasico with 26 goals, Messi is the leading scorer in the Catalonian derby against Espanyol (25 goals). 

- He is one of the two players in Champions League history to score 100+ goals (115), alongside Ronaldo (130). 

- Messi was the first player to score five goals in a single Champions League match, versus Bayer Leverkusen in March 2012 at Camp Nou. 

- He is one of the six players to reach 50-plus goals in the Copa del Rey (53 goals) and one of the two to have scored in five different Copa del Rey finals after Telmo Zarra.

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    Indeed, given his record against Madrid and the state of the league table, this weekend could be the moment Suarez tips the balance of the title race inexorably in Atletico's favour.

    OLD HABITS

    It wasn't simply being told to leave by Barca that left Suarez so incensed; it was being made to feel he was no longer good enough for "a great team".

    "That's what I did not like," he told France Football. "If I hadn't done anything at a club like Barca for three or four seasons, I would have understood.

    "But, every year at Barca, I scored more than 20 goals per season. I have always had good statistics, just behind Leo [Messi]."

    So he is again. Suarez's 16 goals in 21 league games this term puts him second in the top-scorer standings, three behind Messi. Add in assists, and only his old team-mate (23) has had more direct goal involvements than Suarez (18) in LaLiga this season.

    While Suarez is no longer as explosive as he was at Liverpool and in his earlier Barca years, he has lost little of his ruthlessness. Discounting the two penalties he has converted this term, Suarez has scored 14 times from an expected goals value of just 9.6. That differential of 4.4 is the biggest in the division, save for that of 'El Comandante', Levante's 33-year-old star striker Jose Luis Morales (5.0).

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    CAN SUAREZ STOP THE DERBY ROT?

    Atleti followed December's derby defeat by winning 10 of their next 12 games, the only slip-ups being a Copa del Rey shock at Cornella and a 2-2 home draw with Celta Vigo on February 8 (in which Suarez scored twice).

    However, including that result, they have won only twice in their past five league matches, a run that has emboldened Barca and Madrid's title hopes and left fans wondering whether 'Hay Liga' after all.

    A dip in form before a derby is never positive, but Atleti in particular need no extra pessimism. They have not won any of the most recent nine league meetings with Madrid, their longest run without a victory under Diego Simeone, and they have not even scored in the previous three. Only once in their history have they gone four league derbies without a goal.

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    But Suarez has happy memories of facing Los Blancos. Although he's gone two games without scoring against them, his goal record overall reads nine scored in 12 league appearances versus Madrid, the most of any player since his first season in Spain in 2014-15.

    What's more, he has an all-important side-kick back in form.

    JOAO, THAT'S IMPRESSIVE

    Joao Felix's sublime strike against Villarreal secured a valuable three points for Atleti last time out and ended his own month-long goal drought. He responded with a stony-faced 'shushing' celebration, to which a delighted Simeone responded: "I love it when players rebel."

    Simeone will be desperate to see his €126m man in a similar mood come Sunday. Not only is he Atleti's most exciting individual talent, but he's also the man who has brought the best out of Suarez this season.

    Joao Felix has created eight chances for Suarez in LaLiga in 2020-21, more than any other Atleti player. Of his four assists, three have been for the former Ajax man; only Marcos Llorente has provided as many for Atleti's number nine.

    Perhaps Suarez has found a kindred spirit in Joao Felix: supremely talented, decisive, and "rebellious". What better double act to deploy in the Atleti's most important LaLiga derby in seven years?

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    ROUND-UP

    - Bild reports Manchester City are favourites to sign Erling Haaland if Borussia Dortmund sanction an off-season exit. Haaland has been linked with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Liverpool, ChelseaUnited and Bayern.

    - As City target Haaland, Sport Mediaset says Serie A champions Juve are considering a move for veteran forward Sergio Aguero. The Argentina international is out of contract at season's end.

    Barca have been offered Bayer Leverkusen star Edmond Tapsoba, claims Sport. Tapsoba is valued at around €40m.

    - Wolves are open to selling Adama Traore at a reduced price, according to the Daily Mail. Barca, Liverpool and City have been linked with Traore previously.

    - The Sun reports United are considering the sale of star goalkeeper David de Gea. It comes as Dean Henderson expects to become number one next season. The Transfer Window podcast, meanwhile, says United are seeking a new number one amid links to Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma.

    Chelsea remain interested in RB Leipzig centre-back Ibrahima Konate, according to Bild. Konate is not short of admirers, linked to the likes of United and Arsenal.

    United have not contacted Eintracht Frankfurt's Andre Silva as an alternative to Haaland, claims Bild.

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