Messi will visit Ronaldo twice this season and each player will be trying to prove their greatness, but only one has the true edge.
The UEFA Champions League is Cristiano Ronaldo country, and Lionel Messi is just visiting. Messi gets to visit twice this season when he and Barcelona face Ronaldo’s Juventus home and away in Group G.
Messi will have a point to prove because he’s now the weakest link in a rivalry he used to own.
The role reversal in the rivalry between the two greatest players of their generation can best be charted through the Champions League.
Messi was in the box seat early doors. He bossed things by helping Barcelona beat Ronaldo and Manchester United in the final in 2009.
Barca’s second goal came from a Messi header when he hung, seemingly suspended in midair, above a bewildered Rio Ferdinand.
More Messi-inflicted pain was to follow for Ronaldo when he led Real Madrid out for a semi-final on home soil in 2011. The occasion was ruined when Barca coasted thanks to a Messi masterclass at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Beating United in another final cemented Messi’s place as the undisputed best player on the planet. All Ronaldo could do was cast envious glances, but his fortunes soon changed for the better.
Ronaldo had already lifted the famous trophy with United in 2008. But his true ownership of the prize began with Real Madrid during the 2013/14 season.
He was the key man for an expansive team expertly led by master tactician Carlo Ancelotti. Ronaldo scored an eye-watering 17 goals to help Real win the competition for a 10th time, both records.
Messi struck back by helping Barca win a treble alongside Neymar and Luis Suarez the following season. Being usurped temporarily only served to spur Ronaldo to even greater heights.
His response was to win the Champions League for the next three seasons in a row. Zinedine Zidane had replaced Ancelotti and Rafa Benitez in the dugout, but Ronaldo was still the main man.
He scored 16 goals during the 2015/16 season, and 12 a year later, before adding 15 more when Real completed the hat-trick against Liverpool in 2018.
Those goals and all that silverware have given Ronaldo a decisive edge over Messi:
The Champions League hasn’t been as kind to Ronaldo since he joined Juve two years ago. Quarter-final exits at the hands of Ajax and Lyon have left him unfulfilled.
His overall numbers are still the envy of every other player at the top level, including his rival in Barcelona.
Ronaldo needs to deliver this trophy for Juventus. The Turin giants signed him to end a drought in the competition stretching back to 1996.
He’s 35, but there’s still pressure on Ronaldo to prove Juve didn’t waste £99.2 million on a spent force. That’s nothing compared to the scrutiny Messi will be under this season.
He failed to force his way out of Barca when an ugly PR battle ended with him backing down. Messi won nothing last season and has become disillusioned working with president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
There’s still enough talent around Messi, though, including Antoine Griezmann and wonder kid Ansu Fati.
If Messi wins this trophy again, he might settle the GOAT debate with Ronaldo once and for all.
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