Who will have the bigger impact on the Champions League knockout stages: Messi or Ronaldo?

January 8, 2015 12:33 pm
Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Picture by Jan S0L0.

Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Picture by Jan S0L0.

I was going to start this article by saying that being asked to choose between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is akin to being asked to choose between your parents, but I’ve decided it is much more difficult than that. Sorry, dad.

How do you possibly offer up an argument for one and justify your decision to snub the other?

A quick look at the draw for the last 16 of the 2014/15 Champions League would appear to be a good place to start, but even that throws up more questions than answers.

Messi’s Barcelona have been handed a plum tie against reigning Premier League champions Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini’s City are a side that have struggled to make their mark on the grandest of continental stages but are one boasting enough world-class talent within their expensively-assembled ranks to suggest that a two-legged slug-fest with Catalan heavyweights should hold no fear. Indeed, they are 16/1 to go all the way.

It would be easy to suggest at this point, before Real Madrid’s meeting with Schalke even registers on the radar, that Messi’s involvement in the knockout stages could last just 180 minutes (210 if extra-time is required at the Nou Camp to determine a winner).

Uefa competitions betting with the likes of Bet365 has Barca as odds-on favourites to progress. This is at 4/11 and mercurial Argentine Messi has history when it comes to dashing English dreams, just ask Manchester United circa 2008/09 and 2010/11 and the Manchester City class of 2013/14.

Having helped to send Manuel Pellegrini’s side packing in the second round 12 months ago – netting home and away in the process – it would take a brave man to bet against Messi repeating the trick, and I am not that man.

You do, however, wonder how distracting speculation regarding his future will be – with the previously unimaginable thought of Messi leaving Barcelona suddenly considered feasible – and what affect his reported unhappiness will have if he really is falling out of love with the side that helped to make him a figure that transcends sport itself.

Will Lionel Messi be distracted by rumours about his future? Picture by jeroen_bennink.

Will Lionel Messi be distracted by rumours about his future? Picture by jeroen_bennink.

The same can be said for his fiercest rival, with Ronaldo, Mr CR7 himself, now more of a brand than a professional footballer.

The Portuguese superstar appears to revel in his global standing, though. Meanwhile, Messi can often look like a little boy lost, bemused by the attention he attracts and how he is supposed to deal with it.

Messi has, of course, done alright for himself, with records sent tumbling at a rate even Ronaldo has struggled to match.

The pair have become embroiled in a personal duel where outsiders become almost meaningless, mere extras in a Hollywood blockbuster which casts Messi as the clean-cut golden boy from the wrong side of the tracks who has to fight every day of his life to avoid slipping into the shadow of the perma-tanned, six-packed gladiatorial warrior from the big city.

It is this drama, though, which makes the pair such fascinating viewing and will see the eyes of the world descend upon them again when Europe’s premier club competition returns to centre stage in mid-February.

Who, though, will make the greatest impact? It is still impossible to say.

Messi tends to raise his game for the big occasion and may feel that he has a point to prove to those suggesting his eye has been taken off the ball. But Ronaldo plundered four goals in a 9-2 demolition job of Schalke at the same stage last season and would appear to offer an argument with the most weight – with Real 1/12 to make it through to the quarter-finals.

Does Messi deserve the nod, though, because his match-altering efforts came against stronger opposition and he has become the leading scorer in Champions League history over the course of the current campaign?

Even that battle sees Ronaldo hot on his heels, with only three efforts separating the two.

You get the feeling that Messi takes great pride in getting one over on the man from Madrid and will not want to surrender that particular crown without a fight (he is 6/5 to top the scoring charts), but it also has to be noted that CR7 is the reigning king of Europe in more ways than one – Champions League winner, Ballon d’Or holder – and is looking to cement his standing among the Real greats.

To conclude, we are no nearer to determining who will leave a lasting impression in the latter stages. As they can both be relied upon to produce moments of magic, there appears to be only one thing for it. Heads Messi, tails Ronaldo…

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