If you watch Lionel Messi play soccer sometimes it seems like he's just walking around, not really trying as hard as he could be. Yes, Messi usually has the ball at his feet and he's dribbling past defenders, but sometimes, Messi just seems to drift in and out of the game, walking towards the touchline or towards open space.
But what Messi is doing is waiting for his moment. He's drifting away from defenders. He's making it seem like he's not part of the play. And then, in that one moment that you forgot about Messi, he's suddenly driving with the ball or getting on to the end of a pass and scoring a goal before the other team knows what hit them. That's the genius of Messi.
Messi is just conserving his energy, waiting for his time. Messi will still chase down a defender and win the ball, or pressure defenders when they try to make a pass. It's just that Messi isn't running around wildly when it's not nesessary. There always a purpose to Messi's running. Sometimes he's even just dragging a defender away with him by stand still or walking away from the play.
It's like when you see kids playing soccer and everyone hovers around the ball in one big pile, bumblebee soccer. That's the extreme example. But Messi is doing the opposite of this, hiding out away from the play at times, walking when others are running and wasting their energy. Messi is instead waiting for the right moment to run or sprint:
“He was dizzying, only playing at full speed, but now he understands that different matches have different rhythms. He can basically play an entire match just walking. There is no better strategist.” - Real Madrid legend Jorge Valdan
Messi makes it seem like he doesn't even care. He's just walking around the pitch like the game hasn't even started. But don't get tricked by how Messi strolls along the soccer pitch like there's not a big game being played. Take in point the recent Real Madrid versus Barcelona El Clasico:
Lionel Messi's movement stats from El Clįsico on Saturday:
But even when Messi is dribbling it seems like he's walking through and past the defenders with ease. He just makes the game look so easy. But it's the change of pass when he's dribbling that makes defenders look silly as they try to stop him: