Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Messi > Ronaldo

Some stats
CRISTIANO RONALDO: FIFTY-TWO GOALS in 54 GAMES since signing for Real Madrid.
LEO MESSI: SEVENTY GOALS in 72 GAMES in the same period.

The Primera Liga title race has become a two-team procession and two men are at the forefront.

Debate will forever rage over who is the better man. I think people who understand the true beauty of football will give the little Argentine their vote. Football is a team game after all. Messi is undoubtedly a better team player, as well as matching Ronaldo's superhuman goalscoring feats.

The contrasts are fascinating. Messi is a diminutive magician with a silky touch. Ronaldo a towering athlete, strong in the air and with either foot. An excellent finisher. A poacher-winger who can score from four yards or forty. While Messi may not quite have Ronaldo's pace and power, he is a better footballer. Messi's dribbles are all about skill and close control; Ronaldo just knocks it and runs. I don't enjoy watching Ronaldo play because there's always an unsavoury, self-obsessed edge to the guy. He has little of Messi's vision and none of his humility. But nobody can deny that he is a phenomenal goalscorer.

The one question mark that persists about both is whether they excel in the very biggest games. Ronaldo's self-serving style is unsuitable to the tight, marquee encounters and his temperment is sometimes questionable. Messi can be silenced by tight, physical marking by good defenders. Mourinho hatched a plan for Inter that worked a treat in subduing the little man last year.

So the latest 'Classico' may be another opportunity to appreciate the brilliance of the respective supporting casts. Mesut Ozil is an exceptionally gifted playmaker who plays with an admirable selflessness- a perfect partner for the walking Ego that is Ronaldo.

For Barca, Xavi and Iniesta run games- most memorably, they deflated Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League final. Xavi has been, for a couple of years, the best midfielder in the world, controlling the rhythm of the game with consistently precise, probing passing. Iniesta at his best may be the most enjoyable to watch of the lot. He combines Xavi's vision and Messi's dribbling skills.

But what will be decisive when the two teams meet next Monday? Maybe organisation will trump collective talent. Barcelona always give the opposition a chance- they defend high up the pitch and so are always susceptible to an accurate long pass. And Mourinho is always capable of putting a plan together to suffocate attacking football. It might not be as pretty a picture as the all-star cast suggests.

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