And you thought the rivalry would calm down when he moved to Serie A…
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi might not be operating in such close proximity any more, but their exploits continue to prompt wonderment and debate over who is the best footballer of their era and all time.
Ronaldo fired an equaliser for Juventus in their 1-1 Derby d’Italia draw against Inter on Saturday to bring up his 600th club goal.
Four days later, having already got on the scoresheet in Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final with Liverpool, Messi dispatched a stunning free-kick from 30 yards to crown a 3-0 first-leg win for the Blaugrana and reach the same milestone.
Among the numerous parallels of excellence the fellow five-time Ballon d’Or winners have thrown up during their decade at the summit of world football, these remarkably coincidental achievements take the breath away.
Just the 1,200 goals, then. It’s almost impossible to pick your favourite, but some of our writers have had a go.
Dom Farrell – Messi v Real Madrid, April 23, 2017
Barca needed a win to preserve their fading title hopes as a gripping Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu entered stoppage time locked at 2-2. Messi scored in the first-half and was on the receiving end of a red-card lunge from Sergio Ramos before a glorious final flourish that demonstrated one of the outstanding skills of his later career.
As Sergi Roberto stormed upfield and Madrid backpedalled, Messi loitered – surveying all around him from the right-hand side and picking his moment. He arrived on the edge of the Madrid box in an improbable amount of space to receive Jordi Alba’s pass. The movement, the timing of the run, the crisp finish and iconic shirt-held-aloft celebration were all perfection. Oh, and that was Messi’s 500th Barca goal, if you ever doubted his sense of occasion.
Joe Wright – Messi v Real Madrid, April 27, 2011
Feliç Sant Jordi! Una, una camiseta, 2-3 i cap a casa.pic.twitter.com/tCYdy80F7g
— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) April 23, 2017
It was the height of the Clásico’s modern ferocity, when Jose Mourinho’s Madrid and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona met four times in three competitions in the space of 18 days.
A vitriolic Champions League semi-final first leg was deadlocked at 0-0 when Messi collected Sergio Busquets’ pass, raced beyond five Madrid players intent on doing a little more than winning back the ball, and slotted past Casillas with his weaker foot. The speed, the control, the poise – it was finishing that was as brutal as any of the tackles that night.
Tom Webber – Messi v Athletic Bilbao, May 30, 2015
#ElClásico match-winner again?
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) 6 February 2019
There did not appear to be anything for Athletic to worry about when Messi received the ball from Dani Alves six yards inside their half, but about 12 seconds later he scored the opening goal of a 3-1 Copa del Rey final victory at Camp Nou – the second part of their 2014-15 treble under Luis Enrique.
Messi scampered away from Mikel Balenziaga down the right and checked inside of Benat, before beating Balenziaga again by sending the ball one side of him and running around the other. His pace got him in front of Mikel Rico, who was left stumbling after a failed attempt to stop the Argentine wizard entering the box. His quick feet bamboozled Aymeric Laporte and got him onto his favoured left, with which he fired an early drive inside Iago Herrerin’s near post.
Harry West – Ronaldo v Porto, April 15, 2009
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 21, 2018
The phrase “he had no right to score from there” really ought to have been invented for this goal. Ronaldo picked up a pass from Anderson – will there ever be a more easily-earned assist? – and smashed a 40-yard rocket into the top-left corner.
As he wound up to shoot, you thought: ‘Surely he’s too far out.’ Nope. Porto goalkeeper Helton could do nothing to stop it as United’s 1-0 win secured a 3-2 aggregate success and a place in the Champions League semi-finals.
Peter Hanson – Ronaldo v Juventus, April 3, 2018
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) 15 April 2019
“It’s actually laughable, he’s actually taking liberties!” Rio Ferdinand’s astonishment summed up the unimaginable audacity Ronaldo displayed in the pressure cooker of a Champions League quarter-final first leg for Real Madrid at Juventus – who he now plays for – in April 2018.
Dani Carvajal dinked a cross behind the Portugal great and for most mere mortals that would have been the end of it. But it did not matter to Ronaldo, who, on the run, acrobatically leapt into the air and guided a glorious overhead kick past a helpless Gianluigi Buffon from 12 yards. All corners of Allianz Stadium stood to applaud the breathtaking brilliance from arguably the Champions League’s greatest ever player.
Rob Lancaster – Ronaldo v Portsmouth, January 30, 2008
“It was amazing – probably the best of my career.”
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) 3 April 2019
The arms-by-the-side stance, the deadly stare, the pin-point accuracy. This was one straight out of Ronaldo’s top drawer.
David James in the Portsmouth goal could do little more than take a step left such was the speed and the dip on the free-kick. It was a moment in front of a packed Old Trafford that entrenched Ronaldo as a Manchester United hero and set the tone for a decade of barely believable excellence.
Jamie Smith – Messi v Liverpool, May 1, 2019
— Premier League (@premierleague) 17 September 2017
Messi’s consistency is what marks him out as the greatest of all time. He makes the extraordinary routine. And that’s exactly what he did against Liverpool on Wednesday.
Luis Suarez also stood over a free-kick 30 yards out, not that anyone among the near-100,000 fans inside Camp Nou would have thought the striker was taking it.
Messi had already scored seven directly from set-pieces this season, so Alisson knew what to expect. But the Liverpool keeper was left grasping at thin air by the velocity generated by Messi’s left boot.
Nicholas McGee – Messi v Getafe, April 18, 2007
What. A. Goal!
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 1, 2019
Messi was still in the early stages of his Barca career in the first leg of this Copa del Rey semi-final, but this astounding individual effort stands the test of time as the finest goal of his career.
What puts it above the rest is the sheer audacity of the movements he produces throughout a Maradona-esque surge to goal. Picking the ball up on the right flank, he feinted and dipped past two defenders before sprinting to the edge of the area, where he artfully danced his way beyond a further three opponents, rounded the keeper and lofted home a marvellous finish from an acute angle.
That Barca went on to surrender a 5-2 first-leg lead and lose the tie is an insignificant footnote to this wondrous goal.
Patric Ridge – Ronaldo v Atletico Madrid, April 11, 2012
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 18, 2017
Ronaldo scored an incredible 46 LaLiga goals in 2011-12 and three of them came in this derby. The pick of the bunch was a delightful, dipping strike that left Thibaut Courtois with little hope – one that only someone with the Portuguese’s power and precision could make look routine.
Having already scored a sensational free-kick, Ronaldo was afforded time and space on the left and made sure to punish Diego Simeone’s side, sending a venomous effort swerving over Courtois.
He later rounded off his hat-trick from the penalty spot as Los Blancos cruised to an emphatic 4-1 victory.