Gary Neville's FUT Talk: Stop Messi and Ronaldo

Posted October 25th at 12:00am.

How do you stop Messi and Ronaldo? I was part of the Manchester United squad that was involved in the semi final in 2008 and final in 2009 vs. Barcelona. The big difference in Lionel Messi between those two games was the manager – Frank Rijkaard was manager in 2008, and Pep Guardiola in 2009.

In 2008, Patrice Evra faced Messi, as Frank Rijkaard played him pinned to the right wing. Patrice has a very low centre of gravity, he’s very quick off the mark, so it was a comfortable game for him as he had Ji Sung Park playing outside, and they doubled up very well.

The difference in 2009 was Pep Guardiola moved him through the middle as a false number ‘nine’, where he would drift across all the defenders, and play in more dangerous areas where he was running at people more centrally in the box. That was the big change with Messi’s game between 2008-9. His goal scoring record improved, and his ability to change games became ever more an influence on matches.

What Bayern Munich did very well last year, in their semi-final against Barcelona, was to become very compact all over the pitch. As a defensive unit, they were very strong. Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger were particularly strong blocking and intercepting balls into Messi.

Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben also did a brilliant job coming back to make it a tight, closed, narrow midfield. Messi wasn’t in his best physical shape, having picked-up an injury the month before, he had so many men around him all the time because the Bayern Munich defence really squeezed the play, and therefore made the spaces far less easy for him to operate in.

Having played and trained with Cristiano (Ronaldo) for six years at Manchester United, and directly faced him in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, if you’re a capable defender, there are moments in the 90 minutes when you certainly can stop him. You’ve obviously just got to ensure you’re focused.

I always found the key to stopping him was making sure that he didn’t get the ball one-on-one against you. It’s vital to stop the ball getting to his feet in a good position, you’d have to try and step in front of him, try and make sure you put pressure on him very quickly so he didn’t get his speed up.

Once he gets his speed up, and you’re back peddling into your box, you’re really in trouble because the key thing about these types of players is they can go either way, they can go down your right or left side, they can beat you both ways.

It’s impossible to stop these players facing you one-on-one in 90 minutes of football, you definitely need the support of your team mates. World class players will sniff out a weakness in a defence, for instance, if they’re not getting much joy out of a certain player, they’ll drift to another part of the pitch to try and get success.

So, if you’re a right-back, you need your right-sided midfielder, your right-sided central midfielder, and your right-sided central defender to make sure that when the ball goes over, you’ve got two or three players supporting.

The mentality of your midfielders is key. So, when up against the Messi’s and Ronaldo’s in FUT, ensure you have technically defensive full-backs and solid centre-backs, but also a LM and RM who have minimum of ‘Medium’ or ‘High’ Defensive Work Rate, and a decent DEF rating in order for them to support (this can be found in their player bio). For example, at LM - players such as Kwado Asamoah of Juventus or Andrés Guardado of Valencia FC, and at RM – James Milner of Manchester City or Javier Zanetti of Inter Milan.

It’s not the individual effort; it’s a collective effort by the team. And even then that might not be enough.

Four Key Things to Stop a World Class Player:

1) Prevent the service coming into them and stop it at the source
2) If the ball is played into them, make sure you’re as tight as can be to them. You don’t want to give them a chance to run at you.
3) If they have turned, and are now making a run at you with speed, make sure you have your teammates close around for support. Strength in numbers is key 4) ... hope!

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