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Messi Is a Better Player Than Cristiano Ronaldo
After losing the Player of the Year award (Ballon d’Or) to Lionel Messi for four consecutive years, Cristiano Ronaldo won the accolade in 2013. This and the great start Ronaldo has made in the new season has enlivened old debate about whether he is a better player than Messi.
The discussion has focused on a specific set of statistics, namely, goals. To the extent that the data can help us hazard an educated guess about player performance, Messi is the better of the two at club and international level.
However, if goals are used as the criteria to compare players it is not enough to look at the number of goals scored alone. You also have to break down the conversion rate to things like whether the shots are from inside or outside the area, the goal expectation ie would an average player score given the chance presented and the quality of the opponents.
The findings of a recent mathematical study were published in the Washington Post which showed that Messi’s average chance quality in 2009 to 2013 (ie the quality of chances created) was higher than Ronaldo’s. Ronaldo had more shots but most of them were from long distance and he scored only 30 goals from 587 such shots while Messi scored 28 goals from his 287 long distance shots. Messi was more efficient because a higher percentage of his shots were converted ie 9.75% to 5.11%.
The study found that Messi was better at getting into goal scoring positions as he had 29 danger zone shots (from inside the area) to Ronaldo’s 20.
Messi is also a better finisher. In the period between 2009/10 and 2013/14, Messi scored 40% more goals than expected compared to Ronaldo’s 20% (see WASHINGTON POST – Despite great season, Cristiano Ronaldo is not better than Lionel Messi; by Michael Caley, November 7, 2014 ).
Last season Ronaldo broke the norm and surpassed Messi. This drove him to win the Ballon d’Or in 2013. But this must be looked at in the light of the fact that Messi missed part of the year due to injury and when he resumed playing he almost caught up with a count Ronaldo from 31 by scoring 28 by the end of the 2013/14 season.
Also, in the current season Ronaldo has made a great start by scoring 12 goals without penalty to Messi’s 7. A plausible explanation for this is that Ronaldo is no longer a better player but it is attributed to the changing roles of both players in their respective clubs .
With the addition of Neymar and Luis Suarez on the sides of Barcelona’s 4-3-3 formation, lega-end to the future, Messi is playing a deep playing role which has resulted in a tendency towards his goals while his assists are increasing. His goals per game fell from just under 1.50 in the 2012/13 season to 0.86 in 2014/15 while his assists in 2013/14 were just under 0.50 and rose to 0.86 in the current season.
At Real Madrid the trend was the opposite. With the recent addition of Gareth Bale and James Rodriques in midfield Ronaldo is now more of an attacker and less focused on distribution. He is now taking more shots from inside the penalty area and in the current season his 12 goals without penalty except for 2 were inside the box. His goals per game rose from 1.00 in 2013/14 to 2.20 in 2014/15 while his assists in the same period fell from 0.25 to 0.17 (ESPN FC WORLD – Realigning Stars: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo face change roles; by Michael Cox, October 23, 2014).
Messi has a better strike rate than Ronaldo. The all-time stats for all competitions show that Messi has 44 goals from 95 caps (0.46 goals per game) while Ronaldo has 51 from 116 caps (0.43 goals per game) (INTERNATIONAL STATS – November 8, 2014).
World Cup – Messi also surpasses Ronaldo with 5 goals from 15 caps (0.33 goals per game) to Ronaldo’s 3 goals from 13 caps (0.23 goals per game) (INTERNATIONAL STATS etc.).
Messi’s record is very impressive. In 2014 he led Argentina to the final, was voted Man of the Match in 4 games (the most of any player in the competition) and won the Golden Boot as the tournament’s best player.
Contrary to what some critics say, he was the most deserving of the last award. He had the biggest impact on the competition as Argentina would not have progressed to the final without him. He was joint top goalscorer with 4 goals and assists, created the most chances, had the most successful dribble runs, made the most deliveries into the box and produced the most through balls of any player.
In contrast, Ronaldo has a bad record. He has only scored three times and against weak opposition, namely, a penalty against Iran (2006), the sixth goal in a 7-0 win against North Korea in 2010 and a late goal against Ghana in 2014. last tournament his only real contribution was an assist against USA.
THE QUALITY OF THE OPPONENTS
Messi has more career goals for club and country. He has a total of 420 goals in 564 games (or 0.74 goals per game) while Ronaldo has 449 goals in 702 games (or 0.63 goals per game).
The important difference is that Argentina have more changing goals and against stronger opposition. His goals are directly linked to winning titles in La Liga, Champions League victories, Olympic gold medal games and Youth and Club World Cups.
For example, on March 24, 2014 for Barcelona he has scored against the best teams namely, 21 against Real Madrid (Barcelona’s fiercest rival), 20 against the league champion Atletico Madrid and 18 against Sevilla (most successful club in Andalusia). In the Champions League he has 12 against German teams, 8 against English teams and 5 against Italian teams. And in the 2014 World Cup he scored 4 game winning goals.
Ronaldo on the other hand has failed to score in decisive games and has managed to score several goals against weak teams not only with his club but with his country. For example, in the English Premier League for Manchester United he scored only 2 goals in 9 games against Liverpool (United’s fiercest rival) and scored 1 goal in 15 games against one of the stalwarts Chelsea.
In the Champions League for United he failed to net in his first 26 games and although he scored in the final in 2014 for Real Madrid he had little impact in the other final he played in in 2009 in a 2-0 defeat to Barcelona .
In Spain in his first 9 games against Barcelona (Real Madrid’s main rival) he scored only 3 goals.
In the World Cup he has a sorry record discussed above and in the European Championship he has 6 goals against minnows Greece, the Czech Republic and a weak Dutch team and underperforms against strong teams like Germany and Spain.
Overall the stats show that Messi is the better player because he is better at getting into goal scoring positions, finishes better and is a more efficient goalscorer. Messi has an age advantage because he is 27 and Ronaldo is 29 and although it is likely that both will still play for a few more years the Argentine will have more time than Ronaldo to extend his record of achievements. Meanwhile the debate goes on.
Victor A. Dixon
November 20, 2014
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