Goal machine Ronaldo ageing better than struggling Messi

The Juventus superstar is enjoying a stunning campaign, while the Barca icon is in the worst form of his career

1:00pm on Monday 23rd November 2020
Carlo Garganese

Are you Team Ronaldo or Team Messi? It is the eternal question in football and one that has been raging for well over a decade now.

But there can be no debate over who is having a better 2020/21 season so far. Indeed, Ronaldo is enjoying a sensational start to the current campaign. He has scored eight Serie A goals in just five matches, four of these starts.

That translates to a Serie A goal every 47.5 minutes, a quite astonishing ratio.

He has also scored three times for Portugal in 2020/21, taking his overall tally for club and country to 11 goals this season. Only two of these have been from the penalty spot.

Messi, meanwhile, has scored seven times himself this campaign but incredibly only one of these has come from normal play. Indeed, six of his goals have been penalties.

The Argentine has also played four more games than the Portuguese.

In total, Ronaldo is averaging more than double the number of goals than Messi is per match, 0.92 to 0.44.

The ex-Real Madrid man has also scored three decisive goals - those that turn a draw into a win or a loss into a draw. Messi has one.

Ronaldo is outperforming his Expected Goals (xG) for the season by two goals. He is forecast to have had nine goals by now. Messi is under-performing his xG by five goals, having been expected to have scored 11 times by now.

Ronaldo’s superior shooting accuracy can also be demonstrated by the fact that both are having almost the identical number of attempts. Ronaldo is averaging 4.8 shots a game to Messi’s 4.6, while both are having 2.1 shots on target per 90 minutes.

Historically, Messi has had the upper hand over Ronaldo when it comes to assists but in 2020/21 he is even failing to get the better of his adversary in this area.

Both players have two assists this season for club and country.

Ronaldo is outperforming his Expected Assists (xA) projection in both Serie A (1 assist to 0.4 xA) and the Champions League (1 to 0.5).

Messi is underperforming his xA of 1.68 in La Liga as he currently has no assists. He is slightly over-performing his xA of 1.6 in the Champions League thanks to his two assists.

Ronaldo is thus more efficient than Messi with his passing contributions. He is averaging almost half the number of passes of the Barcelona star (34 to 64 per game). His number of accurate passes is also slightly better too (85% to 83%).

However, Messi can boast significantly more key passes than Ronaldo, with an average of 3.3 a game to Ronaldo’s 1.42.


Key stats: 2020/21

Goal avg.0.920.44
Passes p/903464
Key p/901.423.3
Dribbles p/903.79

The pair’s crossing numbers are pretty similar, Ronaldo averaging 1.08 a match and Messi 1.19, although the latter has a better accuracy of 37% to 23%.

Unsurprisingly, the tall Ronaldo is far superior in the air and is averaging three air challenges a game to Messi’s 0.8, while Messi is the more prolific dribbler with nine per match to Cristiano’s 3.7.

Of course, as with any numerical data there are tactical and psychological issues that are not always taken into account. It is well publicised just how unhappy Messi is at Barcelona and that the Argentine tried to leave the club in the summer. His body language suggests this is someone whose head and heart is not in Barcelona right now.

But from a data point of view, Ronaldo continues to produce incredible numbers – particularly from a goalscoring point of view. Set to turn 36 in February and a good two years and four months older than Messi, Ronaldo is certainly ageing better than his historic rival right now.

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