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.