This weekend sees the return of one of football's oldest battles, as Real Madrid takes on Barcelona in the latest instalment of the "El Clasico" rivalry from Camp Nou.
With just three points separating the sides after nine games of the new season, the tie threatens to be as competitive as ever and could well be decided by the individual brilliance of one of the stars on display.
As stars go, they don't come much bigger than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi who, between them, have won the last five iterations of the FIFA Ballon d'Or or World Player of the Year prize.
However, in the modern world that is obsessed by ratings and numbers, the argument inevitably returns to "who is better" of the duo—Messi or Ronaldo? Let's take a look at their respective cases.
|NAME||Cristiano Ronaldo||Lionel Messi|
|Last season (appearances/goals)||34/34||32/46|
When Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid in 2009, despite his excellence at Manchester United, few could have expected the stunning impact he would make on La Liga.
In numerical terms, his performances are frankly unbelievable, with the Portuguese having notched up a remarkable tally of 216 goals in 211 games for Los Merengues, per ESPN FC.
After just four seasons, he is already the club's fifth top goalscorer of all time, with only the legendary Ferenc Puskas coming anywhere near to rivalling his contributions for the club.
What makes the figures even more remarkable is that Ronaldo, like Messi, is not a centre-forward. Instead, he is a prolific scorer from a deeper or wider role, which makes his efforts even more impressive.
If the argument were as to which of the two players were more "complete," then Ronaldo would win hands down.
He is a phenomenon in that he manages to combine incredible power with technical excellence in a way that very few have managed. He can play a number of roles within a side and do so to incredible effect.
Had it not been for the prevalence of Messi in the same era, Ronaldo would almost certainly be regarded as one of the greatest players ever to have walked the planet—his performances over a long period of time deserve as much.
However, there has always been the Argentine to compete with and, thus, Ronaldo has remarkably won just one FIFA World Player of the Year title over the course of his career to date. In any other era, he would be a multiple winner.
The thorn in Ronaldo's side, Argentine Lionel Messi has been at the top of world football for the past four or five years, breaking nearly every record in the book en-route to four Ballon d'Or successes.
The diminutive Argentine is a technical phenomenon, beating players at will without the need for particularly fancy footwork. Instead, his control of the ball, low centre of gravity and short distance acceleration make him a nightmare to pick up.
B/R's Daniel Edwards took a look at his positional play, which has been a major reason behind his success. Messi intelligently drifts into pockets of space that will allow him to create chances for either himself or others.
It is for this reason that he was moved to become a "false nine" by manager Pep Guardiola ahead of the 2009-10 season, and also why Messi is one of just a handful of players to have effectively played the role.
His form for Argentina was often used as a method of down-playing his achievements at club level, but with 18 goals since the start of 2012 alone for La Celeste, that can no longer be the case.
While Ronaldo holds a physical advantage over the Argentine, Messi has a deftness to his game that his rival has sacrificed in favour of strength and power.
As such, he is better suited to dropping deeper and helping with build up play than Ronaldo, but retains the speed to be a threat on the counter—although Barcelona rarely look to counterattack.
Upon retirement, Messi will be compared to the greatest players ever to have played the game—including idol Diego Maradona. It will be no surprise, indeed, if in December he becomes the first player to win five consecutive Ballon d'Or titles.
It is difficult to compare like-for-like two such outstanding players as there is no team in the world that would not welcome both into their side. As ever, it is important therefore to emphasise that either could be better depending on the scenario into which they are placed.
Were they to swap clubs, for example, it would be difficult to say whether both would continue to enjoy quite the same levels of success. However, both would undoubtedly continue to shine.
Football is blessed to witness two such extraordinary talents in the same era and the hope must be that their excellence will continue for some time.
Who is better?
Messi, sadly for fans of Ronaldo, has clearly been the better of the two in general over recent years, but has been aided by a Barcelona side that have swept away all before them in magnificent fashion.
That is not to downplay his individual achievements, though, as Messi is more important to Barcelona's success than they are to his personal glories.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, has shown in England and Spain that he will score goals and dazzle audiences in any league in which he plays. He is a one-man wrecking ball at times and richly deserves his success for the time and effort he has clearly put into mastering his game.
Messi may be widely seen as the better of the two players, but the truth is that both should be celebrated equally for their magnificent contributions to the sport of football in recent years.