In a year when Iker Casillas has played a key role in securing success in both domestic and international football, it would be natural to assume that the goalkeeper is at the top of his game. Yet in consecutive Clasico matches, Lionel Messi has exposed a possible weakness in the goalkeeper’s formidable armoury.
In recent years, the development of Lionel Messi into a free-kick expert has been no better highlighted than the two that he has scored this season against Real Madrid. However, in both cases there is an argument that the man between the sticks could have done a better job. On Sunday Casillas followed standard practice to cover the far post whilst the wall dealt with the near side.
However, with the only Barcelona player capable of thundering a powerful drive into the far corner – Dani Alves – off the pitch, the far-post threat was minimal at best. Standing over the dead ball meanwhile were Messi and Xavi Hernandez – two players renowned for their accuracy, rather than their power. Given the threat that was posed, it may have been more logical to assume a central position that would have afforded him the opportunity to start closer to the corner Messi proved more than capable of finding.
Having bent another around the wall only six weeks ago, the 31-year-old had plenty of warning of the style – curled rather than driven – of the Argentine’s free-kicks. During his career, Messi has only once, against Atletico Madrid in February, scored directly in the far corner from a free-kick.
In the Supercopa meeting, it was the positioning of Madrid’s wall, rather than of the goalkeeper, that was at fault. The reigning Ballon d’Or holder was able to go around the outside of the four-man obstruction, ruthlessly exploiting an elementary error for a player of Casillas’ experience. As Barcelona players celebrated, the exasperation on the face of Pepe and accompanying resignation of the goalkeeper made it clear where the blame lay.
In a previous Champions League group stage match, the Spanish No 1’s positioning of his wall was exposed by Juventus attacker Alessandro Del Piero. On this occasion, the Italian did not even need to go either over or around the wall as it was a construction which served so little purpose he had a direct line to the Spaniard’s near post. It was a gift that Del Piero did not turn down and Casillas, even starting on his near side, did not move.
During a long career in the spotlight, it is inevitable that all goalkeepers will make errors that will be scrutinised in great detail. However, the majority of the mistakes Casillas has made are characterised by a consistent set of circumstances. Despite his fantastic shot-stopping and quick footwork, the dead-ball situation is one which he has not always displayed the qualities expected of a goalkeeper of his undoubted calibre.