Real Madrid vs. Barcelona more often than not comes down to a battle between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The two best players in the world have changed the game on their own in recent years and, ahead of their meeting on Saturday, we take a look at just how important they are to their respective sides when they are on the pitch against each other.
Ronaldo goes into Saturday’s Clasico in the midst of a 2017 which has brought almost everything possible for both him and his team, but the Real Madrid star has a few objectives left to achieve against Barcelona.
Ronaldo’s 17 goals in 28 games or one every 141 minutes and 18 seconds is an excellent record given how often his team have been up against it in the fixture. However, the statistics throw up a few wrinkles which he would no doubt like to iron out.
Ronaldo’s most memorable Clasico goals to date have come at Camp Nou, where he has 11 strikes in 13 visitsnotably his decisive late winner in the April 2012 meeting, which sealed that year’s title for Jose Mourinho’s side or on neutral ground, such as the thumping extra-time header at Mestalla which won the 2011 Copa del Rey.
Only five of his goals against Barcelona have been scored at home with all three in La Liga having been penalties. To have not found the net in open play in the Bernabeu’s biggest annual fixture remains a nagging issue especially as Messi has 14 goals in 18 visits to the stadium.
Ronaldo also missed the last Clasico on home soil. His cameo contribution to August’s Super Cup first leg win at Camp Nou included a sizzling solo goal where he embarrassed defender Gerard Pique, but also a second yellow card for diving and his subsequent push on the referee earned him a five-match ban.
In general the Portuguese might feel hard done by in his head-to-head Clasico record with Messi. The Argentine’s 18 goals in 28 games (when Ronaldo has been present) have been enough for 13 victories, while Ronaldo’s 17 have brought just eight wins for his side. That eight goals in La Liga Clasicos have brought just four sets of three points also suggests a lack of support from elsewhere Gareth Bale, for example, has just one goal in his 10 Clasicos .
Another apparent anomaly is that Ronaldo has provided just one assist in total in nine seasons of facing Barca. It is striking that Karim Benzema (eight) is the only Madrid player to have done so more than twice against Barca during that time.
A big personal performance this Saturday from Ronaldo would help as a statement to a Bernabeu crowd which has not always appreciated his contribution through the years. It would also send a message to club president Florentino Perez amid their current impasse over an improved contract.
There is one last big personal target remaining too: a Clasico hat trick. Considering how 2017 has gone so far personally for him and his team, the timing could be ideal.
Messi has scored 14 league goals this season but he could quite easily have scored 30. He has hit the woodwork 14 times, had a goal not given when a shot against Valencia was quite clearly fumbled over the line by goalkeeper Neto, and saw a penalty saved last weekend against Deportivo la Coruna. That doesn’t include the number of times he’s been denied by the opposition’s goalkeeper, either.
Throw in the fact he’s created five goals, too, not to mention the number of pre-assists and should-have-been-assists-but-teammates-missed and you get the idea of just how much of Barca’s play goes through the Argentine.
“Messidependence” is not a new thing, mind, but it is something which was briefly forgotten during the MSN years. But with Neymar gone and Luis Suarez suffering a dip in goal scoring form earlier this season he’s remembered where the net is just in time for the Clasico , though Catalan newspaper Diario Sport declared MMM as the new acronym for Barca’s attack: Messi, Messi, Messi.
Funnily enough, that was the cover of Sport and Mundo Deportivo over 10 years ago, when a teenage Messi tore through Madrid with a hat trick at Camp Nou in a thrilling 3-3 draw.
A lot has changed since then but plenty has stayed the same, too, such as Messi’s importance to Barca. Especially against Madrid. No one has scored more goals in the history of Clasico fixtures than the 30-year-old (24), but it’s since Ronaldo arrived in Spain in 2009 that his involvement in this game took on more significance.
In the 28 Clasicos they’ve both featured in, Messi has the edge in terms of wins (13-8) and goals (18-17) but it’s in assists where, once again, the all-around importance of Messi to his team can be measured. While Ronaldo managed to set up just one goal for his teammates, Messi leads the way with 10.
“Messi even makes a difference when he’s at home having dinner,” former Barca Luis Enrique said after the last league Clasico at the Bernabeu, which pretty much sums it up.
That game ended with Messi swiping home the winning goal in stoppage time, his second of the game, and then standing with his shirt held up in front of the Madrid fans, displaying his name. Not that it’s one they will ever forget.
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