By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo dine apart from the rest, Pep Guardiola once said. On Sunday night, the world's two finest footballers renew their rivalry at Camp Nou in Spain's premier partido – the Clasico. And whatever the result, both men have the opportunity to carve their names deeper into the history of the famous fixture.
Score on Sunday and Ronaldo will become the first player ever to net six successive strikes in the Clasico. Just 18 months ago, the Portuguese was still seeking his first goal against Barcelona, having failed to convert against the Catalans for either Manchester United or Real Madrid. But Ronaldo now has eight strikes against Barca, including the winner in the final of the Copa del Rey in April 2011, four in his last four at Camp Nou (a new record for a Real player in itself) and five from the last five fixtures overall.
|CRISTIANO'S LAST FIVE CLASICO CLASHES
|Spanish Supercopa (h)||Won 2-1||1|
|Spanish Supercopa (a)
|La Liga (a)||Won 2-1||1|
|Copa del Rey (h)||Lost 2-1||1|
|La Liga (h)||Lost 3-1||1|
And Ronaldo comes into the game in red-hot form, having hit back-to-back hat-tricks against Deportivo La Coruna and Ajax prior to this game, taking his total for the season to 12 already. Since joining Madrid in the summer of 2009, the Portuguese has struck 158 goals in 154 matches for the club and is now ninth in the club's list of all-time goalscorers.
Now in his fourth season at the Santiago Bernabeu, Ronaldo still has some way to go before he can make an impression on the list of all-time top scorers in the Clasico, however.
That list is topped by Madrid's honorary president, Alfredo Di Stefano, with 18 goals, with Raul and Messi sharing second spot at the moment with 15 apiece.
Messi, however, is clearly not finished yet and the Argentine needs just three more to equal the mark set by his countryman Di Stefano.
The 25-year-old has failed to score for his last three matches, but has 10 goals to his name this term already and has turned provider for Barcelona lately, setting up four of the Catalans' five strikes against Sevilla and Benfica over the last week.
To draw level with Di Stefano on Sunday, Messi must score three and although the odds will be against a triple treat for the Rosario-born forward at Camp Nou in this particular clash, Leo was the last player to score a hat-trick in the fixture - in the entertaining 3-3 draw in Barcelona five years ago.
With the Argentine continually claiming he wants to remain at Camp Nou for many years to come, it appears only a matter of time before he does break the record, having already become Barcelona's all-time top scorer and their most prolific Clasico converter as well - overtaking legendary forward Cesar Rodriguez to surpass both of those marks.
|THE TOP SIX CLASICO SCORERS
|Alfredo Di Stefano||Real Madrid||18|
|Francisco Gento||Real Madrid||14|
|Ferenc Puskas||Real Madrid||14|
Last season, Messi ended the season with a record 73 goals, surpassing Gerd Muller's long-standing mark. The Argentine also picked up four more trophies for Barca, but missed out on the two he wanted most - La Liga and the Champions League.
Only last week he claimed he is not interested in scoring goals, as long as the team wins, and he will be desperate to regain the major trophies in 2012-13.
And while he may not have netted in the last three games, it is worth remembering that he also failed to do so in Jose Mourinho's first Clasico clash back in November 2010 - and that worked out rather well for Barca as the Catalans ran out 5-0 winners, inflicting upon the Portuguese his worst-ever defeat.
More often than not, however, Messi has been on target in the famous fixture and, in recent times, so has Ronaldo. And with another league game between the two teams to come after this one, plus possible Clasico clashes in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League as well in 2012-13 and more meetings in future, these two look likely to carry on breaking records in the fixture for some time to come.
So Pep was right; and even when it comes to the Clasico, Messi and Ronaldo dine apart from the rest.