How to stop Lionel Messi: Real Sociedad create new way to deny Barcelona's magician

The Argentine's free-kick prowess leads to a tactical re-think in La Liga

From Real Madrid to Manchester United, the world's top teams have tried and failed to stop Lionel Messi.

But La Liga's Real Sociedad have clearly put some fresh thought into the seemingly never-ending conundrum of how to prevent Barcelona's little magician from once again getting one over on his opponents.

Socieded, sixth in the table and well behind Barcelona who jumped back to top spot thanks to their 1-0 victory on Saturday, almost held out at the Camp Nou until Messi netted with an 81st minute penalty for his 19th league goal of the season.

While there was little they could do about that incident, thanks to a helping hand from VAR, they certainly did their homework when it came to trying to thwart Messi as the Argentine lined up a 25-yard free-kick.

Rather than pushing their defensive line high to create the chance of an offside, Sociedad instead packed the goal mouth with players to give Messi the minimum target to aim at.

Dropping one player back on the line just before the moment that the kick is taken to assist the goalkeeper is not unusual, but filling the penalty area with defenders for a set-piece so far from goal is a new tactic which could well catch on among other sides.

Sociedad were successful on this occasion, as Messi rather tentatively curled his strike towards goal and it was headed clear on the six-yard line.

The 32-year-old has scored more than 50 free-kicks in his career and netted two in one match against Celta Vigo in November. His best free-kick was arguably against Liverpool in the Champions League last season at Camp Nou.

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