‘Through balls’: Messi’s latest impossible statistical peak

Category: Player Analysis

Leo Messi has no rival in this aspect of the game where he has always been the best. We compare him with other great players.


Lionel Messi still dribbles a lot, still generates scoring chances, assists and goals, but less often and in less quantity than in his best years. In addition to losing the explosiveness to get off the dribble and leave behind not just one player but several more who try to stop him, Leo can no longer make the difference on the scoreboard. However, he is still the best in one particular aspect: his passing ability.

We wanted to take a look at our database to find out where the Argentine is still not just superior, but vastly superior to everyone else. It is no longer in dribbling (he is the second best player in completed dribbles in the top five leagues, behind only Vinicius) or in goals (far behind Haaland or Mbappé), but in a quality that continues to distinguish him like no one else in the world and surely in the history of football: through balls.

Leo Messi currently almost doubles the number of through balls completed (43, with two months of league competition left) over the second, Neymar (24) and more than doubles the third, De Bruyne (20). To try to measure the quality of these through balls, we crossed this statistic with the expected assists in open play metric (xA), to see how dangerous these passes were and whether they could generate a potential assist. And, of course, he is also among the top two in this metric, slightly below the fantastic Belgian midfielder.

The Argentine, who starred at the World Cup in Qatar, also recorded the best numbers in both metrics, tied with Antoine Griezmann in through balls. The Argentine is averaging almost two through balls per game in Ligue 1 and made up to 4 completed through balls at the World Cup. A skill that far from deserting him is making him a hugely dangerous player if he has time to throw the pass.

Messi’s ability to generate danger without starting, just by finding the space that often only he is able to see even when getting a huge amount of information with only a tenth of a second is still within his reach, an ability that allows him to survive among the best even though he has lost the physicality that in the past also made him the best.

We are Driblab, a consultancy specialized in the statistical analysis of players and teams; our work is focused on advising and minimizing risk in professional football decision-making in areas related to talent detection and footballer evaluations. Our database has more than 200,000 players from more than 180 competitions, covering information from all over the world. Here you can learn more about how we work and what we offer.

Autor: Alejandro Arroyo
For Player Analysis we also recommend you:

Accurate and progressive: the kings of passing

The three best midfielders in Europe are vastly superior to the rest. There is no data that eludes them.

Who are the Best Pressing Players in the Most Intense League?

Who presses more effectively in the Bundesliga 23/24?

How good is the forward I’m looking for at pressing and defending?

We explain how we can model our data and visualizations to understand how much and with what success the center forward we are looking for defends and works off the ball.

Joao Neves: the data makes clear his incredible impact

What does the data say about one of the most surprising midfielders of the moment? Perhaps a lot more than you expect.

‘xG Build up 5 passes’: adjusting (further) the value of players in each possession

We discover the best midfielders in possessions that generate ‘expected goals’ by measuring only the five passes prior to the last pass.

Endrick 2024: understanding his near future with data

We analyse Endrick’s rapid evolution: new areas of the field, new roles and new plays. Endrick 2024 is starting to come into view.

Expected threat open play ‘in team’: the truly irreplaceable players

We highlight the top 20 players who are most indispensable to their teams in generating danger.

Ranking defensively compromised wingers

We discovered the wingers who complete the most defensive actions and show the most commitment defending in their own half.

Passing and carrying: who makes the most progress with the ball?

Through two metrics of ball progression, we discover the midfielders who most often progress possession with a pass or a carry.

ON/OFF: a big warning for the European champions

We used our ON/OFF tool to analyse, across 14 metrics, the impact Rodri’s absence is having on Manchester City’s play.


Información corporativa

Somos una empresa con sede en Madrid fundada en 2017 por Salvador Carmona y Cristian Coré Ramiro. Desde nuestros inicios nuestro trabajo se ha centrado en el análisis estadístico de datos para ayudar a los clubes en la planificación deportiva. Somos una consultora big data que ofrece servicios personalizados para cada cliente y defiende un modelo de gestión mixto y una comunicación constante para acompañar el día a día de las instituciones. Nuestro punto fuerte es la más amplia cobertura disponible en número de torneos profesionales y juveniles. Para más detalles, póngase en contacto con nosotros.

Colaboramos con:


Hemos aparecido en: