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Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo both changing how they play, says Guillem Balague

Sky Sports expert also discusses Pedro Leon's situation at Getafe

Cristiano Ronaldo Lionel Messi Real Madrid Barcelona
Image: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi: both have changed their playing style with age

It’s now clear that Lionel Messi has changed the way he plays the game.

He still has the freedom to play wherever he wants, but he has benefitted from a greater intensity in training at Barcelona and also from the team being more organised.

Under Luis Enrique, Barcelona pressure higher up the pitch, they distribute the ball more quickly and there is a lot of movement off the ball. All of that is helping Messi’s decision-making.

Previously, he was looking to play around the penalty area and to score goals, but he has now taken a few steps back and you’re more likely to see him in the number 10 position.

He’s not just a number 10 because he appears everywhere, but he is enjoying his assists as much as his goals now. He has provided six assists and scored three goals this season, so he has contributed to a 75% of Barcelona’s 12 goals so far.

It has taken a while to realise that a 27-year-old body is different to a 21-year-old body. This is an evolution that had been predicted by everybody around him, but he needed to see it and he needed to feel that’s what his body can give him.

After what happened at the World Cup – when perhaps his performances weren’t praised as much as he deserved because Argentina’s system didn’t benefit him at all – he has decided to take a couple of steps towards becoming the “new” Lionel Messi.

We are seeing the same situation with Cristiano Ronaldo.

We will never again see the winger that we used to see flying down the flanks at Old Trafford or in his first few years at Real Madrid; he is now a player that plays up front with freedom.

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Real Madrid thrashed Deportivo La Coruna 8-2 on Saturday

Sometimes he plays on the left wing and lately we have seen him on the right wing a lot, joining in with Gareth Bale. He also plays as a number nine next to Karim Benzema and you also see him dropping deep to play a part in the build-up.

The new Real Madrid accumulates bodies in the centre and a lot is built around the combinations of James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos… and also Ronaldo.

That’s an evolution from his usual way of playing. He can accept the limitations of his body as long as he remains important to the team – and he is still very important, albeit in a different way.

We started to see some of those changes last season, but it was partly down to physical problems. Now you can see he has accepted his physical limitations – he still hasn’t recovered 100% from his patellar tendon problems – and he is going to change the way he plays.

GETAFE, SPAIN - JANUARY 12: Pedro Leon of Getafe CF in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Rayo Vallecano de Madrid at Coliseum Alfonso P

Pedro Leon’s story at Getafe is one that goes beyond a single player and a single club.

This is a situation that has become personal between the player and the club’s president, Angel Torres, who wanted him moved to certain clubs in Qatar and Russia. That would have earned Getafe a lot of money, but the player wasn’t interested in that and wanted to have his say.

With the Financial Fair Play rules that are imposed on the league by the Spanish clubs, Angel Torres found the perfect excuse to prevent Pedro Leon from being part of the squad.

Revista De La Liga

There is a limit on wages – which at Getafe is about 80million euros – and Pedro Leon’s wages took them over that cap. That was used as an excuse to exclude him from the squad. The problem is that the club is still paying his wages, which is a very strange situation, and Angel Torres clearly doesn’t want him in the squad.

The trade union then insisted that the federation give him a license to play and they did so – and so in theory everything is sorted. However, the league says that if he is put onto the pitch (for instance in the Sky Sports live game against Valencia on Monday night) then Getafe will be punished with a 3-0 defeat for the illegal inclusion of a player under the FFP rules.

Getafe coach Cosmin Contra has included 19 players in the squad for that game, rather than the 18 required, so he could be left out. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Pedro Leon is thinking of taking the league and Getafe to civil court, which could destroy the Financial Fair Play regulations that have been put in place by the league.

This case is about bullying in the workplace, but it’s also about the league’s belief that unless limits are put on clubs then they will continue to fall into debt.

It’s a fascinating situation.

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