Lionel Messi knows a few things about offside traps.
It’s a good thing, too, because they’re quite the topic of conversation in light of Bruno Fernandes‘ highly controversial equaliser during Manchester United‘s 2-1 win over Manchester City on Saturday.
There are few football fans around the world this weekend who haven’t asked themselves whether or not they think Marcus Rashford was interfering with play just moments before Fernandes found the back of the net.
And with most people coming to the conclusion that Rashford did indeed influence the phase of play regardless of him not touching the ball, it really goes to show that the whole idea of ‘interfering with play’ is a fine art.
If you can master it, then you can play games with the referee and opponent in the palm of your hand, but if you get it wrong, then you can cost your team a goal at a crucial moment.
And perhaps unsurprisingly, Messi has proven over the years that he does indeed have the ability to destroy offside traps within his repertoire.
Given that so much of what makes the Paris Saint-Germain star such an untameable footballing force surrounds his IQ on the pitch, we shouldn’t be shocked to know that he’s placed the Laws of the Game on his puppet strings before.
This is the man, after all, who has a compilation about him titled: “The Smartest Skills Without Touching The Ball – Lionel Messi,” that’s over four minutes long and boasts 9.2 million views.
And if you cast your minds back to Barcelona‘s treble-winning season of 2014/15, you might remember a match where Messi helped himself to a hat-trick of right-footed goals at APOEL FC.
One of those strikes at the GSP Stadium saw Messi using and abusing the APOEL offside trap to not only create a decoy for Pedro, but also, in turn, to pave the way for him to ripple the net – and all without ‘interfering with play’.
In footage that amassed more than four million views in one instance, Messi is seen being hyperaware of the fact that he’s in an offside position, allowing the ball to pass him by and find his Barca strike partner who hadn’t strayed beyond the defence.
And by the time that Pedro had gotten on the end of the cross, Messi was now onside, licensing him to play the ball across the six-yard box and secure a fantastically intelligent goal.
A similar situation also played out in another Champions League tie for Barcelona where Messi showed almost identical movement, clearing the way for Neymar to score at the back post.
It just goes to show that the offside rule and all the complications that come with it can – with a little bit of luck from the officials along the way – be moulded and exploited to suit your needs.
Rashford might not have deliberately flirted with ‘interfering with play’ in the way that Messi did, but the outcome was the same in that they didn’t quite do enough to induce the subsequent goal being disallowed.
It’s a fine, fine balance that Messi has struck perfectly before and Rashford, whether deliberately or not, managed to follow in his footsteps.
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