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What can Charlotte FC do to stop Lionel Messi?

By Sam Vanolinda

Lionel Messi setting up for a free kick against FC Dallas (Photo courtesy of Inter Miami CF)

Containing Lionel Messi almost seems like an oxymoronic statement at this point in his career. Since October 2004, when the long-haired, baby-faced 17-year-old made his professional debut against Espanyol, he has been the subject of many locker room talks and tactical meetings from the greatest minds in the football world, and few have managed to slow him down.

And now, the greatest of all time, and the leader of Inter Miami, faces Charlotte FC in the quarter-finals of the Leagues Cup this Friday.

Messi may not be completely shut down often, especially in his first four Leagues Cup games in which he has contributed seven goals and one assist, but it is worth it to write down a couple of ways that you can contain La Pulga for the upcoming quarter-finals match at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.

Force him wide

Messi’s wand of a left foot has allowed him to use his low center of gravity and unparalleled dribbling ability to cut inside and score or create goals for fun during his entire career. If you allow Messi to possess the ball and freely drive toward the goal, you can kiss your chances goodbye.

Here is a video highlighting Messi's ability to cut inside and create:

Forcing Messi wide makes him substantially less dangerous because he has fewer options to create goals from the flanks of the pitch. It is easier said than done, but Charlotte should look to crowd Messi when he has the ball and shade him as far wide as possible.

Close the gaps between the defensive and midfield lines

Robert O’Connor wrote an article for Bleacher Report in 2018 “How to Stop Leo Messi: From the Men Who've Actually Managed to Do It.”

Within this well-written piece, defenders who have managed to stop Messi in the past gave their takes on how you stop the unstoppable.

Arne Friedrich was tasked with marking Lionel Messi in his 0-4 defeat against Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa, and he had this to say after his triumphant victory.

"We tried to have absolutely no space between the lines of our midfield and defense," says Friedrich. "We always tried to push up, and even if we dropped a little bit, we tried to drop the midfield as well, so there's never any more than seven or eight yards difference between the two lines. This makes it very hard for Messi to receive the ball in space."

Charlotte does not have the tactical and technical discipline of a team like Germany, but if the midfield and defense can move as one, and close those gaps where Messi likes to receive the ball, they have a better chance of making him uncomfortable and moving on to the semis.

Defend without fouling

Inter Miami are two unbelievable Messi free kicks from not still being in this competition.

Again, it is easier said than done, but Charlotte should look to crowd players near the box but not commit fouls, it makes it easier for Messi when he has a minute plus to line up his shots.

An inexperienced back line, along with the loss of Nathan Byrne who has made some game-saving tackles for The Crown in the last couple of games will make it hard to be disciplined in tackles, but Charlotte fouling near the box will allow Messi to end up being posted on every social media platform with another game-winning free kick.

Attack, attack, attack

One thing that all football fans can agree on, is Messi is not known for his defensive prowess.

Messi likes to conserve his energy, if you watch him during the game, he will casually jog around like a 55-year-old in a pick-up game, before unleashing his greatness when his team is in an attacking position.

This has affected the Inter Miami team. The team pushes up with him because they have the opportunity to receive passes and create goals with the greatest ever.

This leaves gaps in the defense of a Miami team that people forget is still in last place in the East. Charlotte needs to counterattack and make the most of their chances.

Messi does not have a backline of Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, Dani Alves, and Eric Abidal anymore, so if he does manage to score, Charlotte needs to respond.

In Conclusion

Stopping Messi and Inter Miami will take a combination of mental preparation and tactical awareness for the entire Charlotte FC team.

That being said, football is a team game, and if the players show up, anything can happen this Friday night.