Champions League heading for goals record, but has Messi underperformed?

By Sports Desk November 05, 2020

It has by no means been a vintage start to the season for Lionel Messi.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner failed to force through an exit from Barcelona at the end of 2019-20 and in his nine appearances in all competitions this term he is yet to register a goal from open play.

His solitary goal in LaLiga came from the penalty spot, as did his three in the Champions League as Ronald Koeman's side navigated meetings with Ferencvaros, Juventus and Dynamo Kiev to reach the midway point of the group stage with a 100 per cent record.

Messi may not be at his prolific best but the 2020-21 Champions League is on course to set a record for the most goals per game in the competition's history.

Still a key creator

All of Messi's three goals may have come from the spot, but he is still having an important impact.

The Argentinian has supplied two assists and is creating an average of 4.3 chances per 90 minutes – his previous high was 2.9 in 2011-12 and 2018-19, which were also the two campaigns in which he recorded his best minutes per goal numbers (70 and 71 respectively).

Indeed, only Borussia Monchengladbach striker Alassane Plea (6) has been involved in more Champions League goals this term than Messi, while Bayern Munich midfielder Joshua Kimmich (10) is the only other player to have hit double figures for chances created.

Although each of Messi's three big chances have been penalties, he has still attempted 5.7 shots per 90 minutes – not too far off his high of 6.9 in 2011-12.

He may not be being as clinical, but there is no doubt Messi is still proving hugely influential in Barca's attack.

Goals, goals, goals

Not everyone has been struggling for goals, though.

Through the opening 48 games of the competition there has been 156 goals, which works out at an average of 3.25 per match – which would represent a record in the modern era. The existing record of 3.24 goals per game was set last term and four of the past five seasons have seen the highest averages.

Of the goals in this year's competition, 22 have come from the penalty spot. That works out at almost one every other game (0.46). The most in a Champions League campaign was set last term at 0.31.

However, the red cards per game (0.15) is one of the lowest, with only five previous campaigns seen fewer on average. The lowest mark of 0.08 was registered in 1992-93.

Pressing high and playing

In European football, there's no doubt it's definitely in vogue to press high, play out from the back and keep possession. No one has quite mastered that like Pep Guardiola.

Manchester City and Real Madrid have recorded the joint-most high turnovers – defined as the number of sequences that start in open play and begin 40 metres or less from the opponent's goal – with 27, more than double the total managed by Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool (12), and have both seen eight of them end in a shot and two in a goal.

Atalanta have proved more efficient in making the goalkeeper work when regaining possession at most 40m from the opposition goal. However, despite six of their 15 high turnovers ending in a shot, none have resulted in a goal.

City have begun their open play sequences from an average of 49m from their own goal – further forward than any other team in the competition – and lead the way in open play sequences of at least 10 passes with 82. Only Madrid (61), Borussia Dortmund (64) and Barca (77) have had more than 60 such sequences.

Guardiola's side have also registered a competition-leading 22 build-up attacks, which are open play sequences of at least 10 passes that either end in a shot or include a touch in the opposition box.

Pass masters

It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that City centre-back Ruben Dias has the highest passing accuracy (96.2 per cent) of any player to have attempted at least 200 passes.

The fact the next most precise player in that category is Ferencvaros midfielder Ihor Kharatin, though, may raise some eyebrows.

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