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Messi vs Ronaldo in numbers

January 19, 2011

For the past two years (and probably for the next 5 years) the big debate about the best football player seems to be between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Both are amazing players and both have been playing in the same league for a year and a half, so I decided to look at the stats. Maybe we can conclude who had a better year and a half.

The stats are taken from Marca. I believe there is one discrepancy concerning the goal tally of Ronaldo. This season Marca has him down for 23 goals, while everyone else (including Sid Lowe) says it’s 22. The latter is probably correct but for consistency I will use whatever Marca is providing. I’m only taking the Spanish league games, nothing else, again for consistency. And I’m only looking at goals, assists and shots on goal. Passing stats will be skewed to Messi since Barcelona plays tiki-taka and as for defending I don’t know what stats to use.

Both teams have played 57 games and they have scored an impressive amount. Barcelona hit the net 159 times from 897 shots on goal (a conversion rate of 17.7%), while Real Madrid hit the net 149 times from 1139 shots on goal (a conversion rate of 13.1%). So far Barcelona won 48, drew 7 and lost twice, while Real Madrid won 46, drew 6 and lost 5. This makes Barcelona a clear winner between the two based on the number of points (FCB=151, RM=144).

During that time, Messi played 51 games, scored 52 from 232 shots on goal (conversion rate of 22.4%) and gave 22 assists. He is involved in 47% of the goals scored when he is on the pitch is good for 1.45 goals (scored or assisted) per game. His shots on goal are 26% of the team’s total.

Ronaldo on the other side played 48 games, scored 49 from 342 shots on goal (conversion rate of 14.3%) and gave 9 assists. He is involved in 39% of the goals scored and is good for 1.21 goals per game. His shots on goal are 30% of the team’s total.

Now here comes the tricky bit. What conclusion can we make using those numbers?

Actually, not much. The numbers are very very impressive and tells a story but it still doesn’t say who the better footballer is. Football is a team sport and the individual skill depends a lot on the team and coach. Real Madrid changed their coach beginning of this season and added new players. Their style changed and Ronaldo’s playing changed as well. Barca made one crucial change (in terms of attacking) by replacing Ibrahimovic with David Villa. And these stats are not telling about their defensive qualities or even if they are needed to defend with their team.

What I can tell is that both players are very important to their respective teams. But that is pretty obvious even without the stats.

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