Revealed: Messi's 4 qualities Ronaldo will never have


Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo rivalry have defined football in the 2010s with both superstars winning a lot of individual awards and club trophy. Today we will take a look at a few areas where the Argentine captain is superior to the Portuguese superstar.

Passing
There's not much to separate Messi and Ronaldo when it comes to goals - the Barcelona captain has netted 700 goals in his career, whereas the Juventus forward has 725 goals to his name.

Both the players are elite goalscorers far ahead of any other player in this generation - but one of the things that separate the 6-time Ballon d'Or winner from the 5-time Ballon d'Or is his passing.

Throughout their careers, Messi has 289 assists in 856 appearances as compared to Ronaldo's 220 assists in 1000 appearances. But we're not talking only assists; the difference goes deeper than that.

Since WhoScored started recording player data from the 2009/10 season (a season after Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid), Messi leads the way in terms of passes per game, successful pass percentage, and key passes per game.

Messi averages an astounding 2.3 key passes per game while attempting 56.1 passes every 90 minutes and completing 83.7 per cent of those passes.

On the other hand, Ronaldo averages 1.7 key passes per game while attempting just over 33 passes per 90 minutes and completing 81 per cent of those passes.

But wait - there's still more! Thanks to the advanced statistics that we now have available to us, we can even check how progressive the passes made by these players are. Furthermore, we can examine the players' expected goal assists, passes into the penalty area, or passes into the final third which are more valuable as they lead to better goalscoring chances.

Expected assists are defined by Opta as: "The likelihood that a given pass will become a goal assist. It considers several factors including the type of pass, pass end-point and length of the pass."

Progressive passes are defined by FBref as: "Completed passes that move the ball towards the opponent's goal at least 10 yards from its further point in the last 6 passes, or completed passes into the penalty area."

Messi's expected assists are 48.3 since the start of the 2017/18 season (when these stats became available). Ronaldo? He sits way behind at 14.8.

If you look at progressive passes made, Messi has completed a mind-blowing 1124 such passes in comparison to Ronaldo's feeble 277 passes.

Sure, some of this is down to the style of football that Barcelona play as they love to pass the ball more. However, we all know how good Barcelona have been the past 3 seasons, don't we? Messi has been single-handedly controlling the flow of the game since the departure of Andres Iniesta and the fall in the form of Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets.

Simply put - Messi is so far ahead of Ronaldo in this department that a comparison would be an insult to the little magician.

Free-kicks
Ronaldo is not a poor free-kick taker. If anything, he was one of the world's most feared set-piece specialists during his Manchester United and early Real Madrid days.

However, the important word in the last sentence is was. Recently, the 5-time Champions League winner made headlines when he scored a free-kick for Juventus. Why was this such a big deal, you ask? Well, because it took Ronaldo 43 attempts to score his first free-kick in the Serie A! His record of 42 previous attempts without scoring is now a league-high stat.

To be fair, Ronaldo has scored 55 such goals in his life as compared to Messi's 52. However, we must remember that the Portuguese was always the primary free-kick taker at every club he went and he has played over 100 more games than Messi, who has been a late bloomer in this department.

As you can see in this brilliant graph (taken from michelacosta.com), Messi (represented in red) has been supreme in this category since the 2014/15 season, whereas Ronaldo has declined heavily with age.

Since 2014/15, Ronaldo has scored 11 free-kicks as compared to Messi's 33. At this point, we must also take into account the accuracy that both the players have shown, as everyone knows that more attempts mean a better chance of success!

Ronaldo's accuracy has stayed below 10% since the 2009/10 season, and his overall career accuracy is a meagre 6%, which is not impressive at all.

Messi, again, takes the cake here - he has scored 9% of all his free-kick attempts and no one in the world has been as good as him in the last 8 seasons when he has really established himself as the best in the world in this area.

In fact, over the last 8 seasons, Messi’s 29 netted are more than what the top five free-kick scoring teams in Europe - namely Juventus (27), Real Madrid (23), Roma (21), Lyon (21) and PSG (20) - have managed to accumulate (accurate till November 2019).

Over the past five years, Ronaldo has also been outscored in this area by Neymar (11), Willian (11), Dani Parejo (10), Dimitri Payet (10), and Aleksandar Kolarov (8) – all of whom have taken at least 43 fewer attempts.

The Argentine has had twice as many attempts at club level as Ronaldo during that time but his conversion rate (11 per cent) is still far superior to that of the Juventus forward (5%).

Ronaldo was a great free-kick taker once upon a time, but he never came close to matching Messi's accuracy even at his peak. Again, the Barcelona man is ahead.

Dribbling
There may not be a better sight in football than a player dribbling his way through opponents. Watching a footballer dance around the field like a ballerina and gracefully glide through defences while keeping the ball with him is a sight to behold.

According to Squawka, no one has been a better dribbler than Messi in the sport since the dribbling stat was first recorded in the 2006/07 season - the Barcelona man has completed a ridiculous 1,880 take-ons, 660 more than any other player in that time. He also boasts a pretty good completion rate of 57.20 per cent, the second-best of those in the top 10.

Eden Hazard is the only other player to have completed over 1,000, clocking in 1,220 - still a far cry from Messi. As for Ronaldo? He's 5th in the list, with 816 take-ons completed at a success rate of 44 per cent.

He's so far off, we could basically be comparing the distance between Barcelona and Madrid to the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

In the last three seasons, Messi has completed 591 dribbles in his 878 attempts - Ronaldo has completed 166 of his 270 attempts. As far as this stat goes, no further explanation is required.

Versatility
Ronaldo is a very intelligent player. He has gone from an explosive winger who used to dribble his way into the box and take shots from 30 yards out to a footballer with supreme positioning sense - a fox in the box who uses his insane leaping ability, finishing skills and agility to get the better of defenders.

In essence, he has transformed his game with age and he has done so effectively. However, he is nowhere near as versatile or as complete a footballer as Messi, who has played at virtually every single midfield or attacking position from centre midfield to left-wing over the past few seasons.

While Ronaldo is a complete forward, Messi is a complete player - all of the stats and the attributes mentioned thus far build-up to this point. Over the past few seasons, you will see Messi dropping deep, collecting the ball from midfield, and passing and sprinting ahead to either assist or score.

With Ronaldo, you don't see that. This is not only because of the teams he plays with but rather primarily because dropping deep, playing a midfield position, building up play through passes is just not an ability that he has.

While Ronaldo is a more of an executor, who plays high up the pitch, Messi (who can do that just as well) is also comfortable dropping deep and keeping possession of the ball with his team. From these positions, he can send his teammates on dangerous runs with his beautiful passes.

If we look at the progressive passing distance (the distance that the ball has been passed towards the opponent's goal, measured in yards), Messi has 30443 yards to his name whereas Ronaldo has less than a third of that, at 8496 (over the last 3 seasons).

This suggests that Messi is much more involved in goal build-up, primarily due to his skill-set which allows him to handle the ball brilliantly at any part of the pitch. His counterpart cannot do the same things and has a different role.

To sum it all up, take a look at this graphic by FootballSlices which shows how superior Messi has been in terms of dribbling success rate, progressive passes, and shot-creating actions.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a generational sportsman, but Lionel Messi is an alien and we should be proud to witness his greatness.
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