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How do you defend against Lionel Messi?

Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona
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Former Atletico Madrid and Chelsea star Filipe Luis answers one of football’s biggest mysteries by recalling his past experiences.

Filipe Luis has recalled his one-on-one battles with Lionel Messi, describing in great detail how he prepared to face the Barcelona star and what it was like on the pitch.

The 35-year-old full-back faced Messi on 26 occasions before he left Spain to return to his native Brazil in 2019 with Flamengo. He was only on the winning side three times (D9 L14) – twice for Atletico Madrid and once for the Argentina national team.

Messi scored 15 goals in those encounters and apparently was open to the prospect of linking up with Filipe at Barcelona.

“One day I would like to ask Messi what it felt like playing against me,” Filipe told the Mail. “I approached it as the most important game in my life against him because he was the best player I have seen play.

“Messi had a thing – and I studied him a lot – that was very important. He improvises. He doesn’t have the dribble in his mind before the ball gets to him. He watches the defender’s movement and depending on your body position, he goes one way or the other. So first I tried not to let him receive the ball.

“When he received with his back to me, there would be a hard challenge and because he’s so strong, so resistant, because he doesn’t go down looking for fouls, the foul is not given away.

“If he receives the ball facing you, one on one, it’s impossible because of that improvisation he has. You can’t plan for it, because he is watching you and can change. I would fake to make one challenge, one side, to try to make him go the other way, where I really wanted him.

“There were games where I went too far in terms of aggression. I was sent off, but he never had a go at me for it; he never said anything. I think he liked it, I think he liked that kind of challenge.

“In fact Barcelona called me [towards the end of his time at Atletico] so I think he must have liked my football. I’d like to know his opinion one day. My best games were always against Messi, for sure.”