The Portuguese boasts a higher goal ratio than his rival over the last 12 months, but the South American has racked up more assists and - crucially - more silverware too
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Soccer Editor
Barcelona versus Real Madrid is arguably football's greatest rivalry, but within the fascinating duel of Spain's superpowers there is an individual battle between two tremendous talents: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
They could not be more different. While the Argentine is an old-fashioned, street-style footballer who evokes a bygone era with his dazzling dribbles and mesmerising magic on the ball, the Portuguese is the complete modern player - all pace, power, precision and potency.
Messi and Ronaldo will go head to head - along with Xavi - for the FIFA Ballon d'Or in January and while the Argentine is expected to triumph in Zurich, 2011 has been a brilliant year for both players. Individually, Cristiano has the edge over the last 12 months, having netted an incredible 60 goals in 60 games, although collectively, Messi can claim the bragging rights, having led his brilliant Barcelona side to five more trophies under Pep Guardiola - La Liga, the Champions League, the Spanish Supercopa, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup.
CRISTIANO RONALDO FOR CLUB &
COUNTRY IN 2011
Ronaldo recently broke the record for the number of league goals in a calendar year. The former Manchester United man has netted 43 times in La Liga in 2011, surpassing Messi's mark of 42 goals set in 2010. And those 43 strikes have come in just 34 games, 27 of which were part of last season's record-breaking total of 40, which set a new Pichichi record in Spain's top flight. But that may yet be beaten this term as Cristiano has already scored 20 in just 16 league games for Jose Mourinho's side in 2010-11.
Ronaldo is often accused of failing to produce against bigger teams, however, and that point was raised recently as the 26-year-old disappointed in the 3-1 Clasico defeat to Barcelona. These stats appear to back up the claim, too, because Cristiano is less prolific against top-class opposition in the Champions League than in La Liga, where standards drop outside the top four or five sides.
For Portugal, the forward enjoyed a happy year in front of goal, scoring seven in nine games, but many of the strikes came against lesser lights such as Cyprus, Luxembourg, Denmark and Bosnia.
And although he has shown a more generous side to his game of late, his total of 17 assists is still some way short of Messi's 35.
Madrid is getting closer to Barca, though, and much of that is down to Ronaldo. At his brilliant best, he may just inspire it to even greater things in 2012.
LIONEL MESSI FOR CLUB & COUNTRY
At the moment, however, Messi is still the main man. His international stats may be less impressive, but overall his numbers are very similar to those of Ronaldo. He has more assists than his rival, struck just a goal less than the Portuguese in 2011 - albeit in more games - and offers so much to a Barca side in which he is the undoubted star.
Messi may have hit 12 goals less than Cristiano in the calendar year, but his superior strike rate both in the cups and the Champions League proves he can perform against any adversaries. Indeed, in key games such as the Champions League semifinal and final, the Argentine delivered.
He falls down only internationally, hampered by a system which fails to get the best from his astonishing abilities. That remains a concern for Argentina as the South Americans look to take advantage of possessing the world's finest footballer in their ranks.
No wonder, then, they have tried to copy Barcelona's formation in the past, attempting to replicate a system in which Guardiola moved Messi further forward, playing him inside, supported by Xavi and Andres Iniesta behind him. It's a frightening prospect for any side, and one which has led Barca to 13 trophies under its current coach - including five in the past 12 months. But as Pep always says: they couldn't have done it without Messi.
So even though Cristiano outscored Leo in 2011, it's the Argentine who ends the year on top because of his ability to perform on the grandest of stages - and the silverware he has claimed in the process.
But as their clubs commence battle again in the New Year and their own personal duel continues, it remains to be seen who will come out on top in 2012.
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