Last season, the Los Blancos hit-man scored 46 goals in 42 La Liga and Champions League games. However, that superb feat was not enough to break the Argentine's stranglehold on football’s most prestigious individual honour (having won it three years in succession).
Messi won an unprecedented fourth Ballon d'Or, which even his fiercest critic could not begrudge, following his bewildering accomplishment of breaking the 40-year-old record in scoring the highest number of goals in a calendar year.
Unwilling to accept the role of second-best, Ronaldo struck back against his nemesis—finishing Champions League top-scorer with 12 goals.
By contrast, after hitting the dizzy heights of 2012, Messi has suffered a disjointed 2013, enduring injuries plus highly publicized legal proceedings.
Despite this misfortune, Messi, who has frequently been compared with Pele and Diego Maradona, has chalked up impressive figures again during the current campaign—14 goals in 14 La Liga and Champions League matches. Furthermore, according to Sid Lowe of the Guardian, Barca's No. 10 displayed glimpses of his best only last week against Milan.
However, his stuttering season now seems to have been firmly derailed, after Messi suffered a hamstring injury against Real Betis and will, according to the BBC, be missing for up to two months.
One man's loss, is another man's gain.
The news will be music to both Ronaldo and Real Madrid's ears. According to Pete Jenson of the Daily Mail, "Ronaldo, Ballon d'Or" resonated around the Bernabeu, following the forward's 19th La Liga hat-trick against Real Sociedad.
His goals in the Spanish capital on Saturday took his tally to 24 in 17 La Liga and Champions League games for the current campaign.
How did Ronaldo feel about the Bernabeu's vociferous support of his quest? As per the Daily Mail, "I don’t want to talk about the Golden Ball, I just do what I do out on the pitch; the decision is not up to me."
Gareth Bale's timely return to fitness appears to have galvanized both Ronaldo and Real. The forwards' partnership could well become a marriage made in heaven—with the ex-Manchester United ace unstoppable in recent spellbinding performances.
In short, he could not be knocking any louder on the door and therefore a Ballon d’Or must now (given Messi is likely to miss the remainder of 2013) be a reality, rather than a dream.
His main competitor is Franck Ribery—reigning European Footballer of the Year. The Frenchman's award was not unsurprising given Bayern Munich's success last season but Ribery's individual exploits surely can't match Ronaldo's brilliance during 2013.
To those who assume Ribery is the front runner due to Bayern winning the treble, there is precedence to firmly suggest that he will not outshine the Los Blancos marksman in Zurich.
In 2010, Wesley Sneijder was the chief playmaker for Internazionale as they won the treble. Barely two months later, the Dutchman was pivotal in guiding Holland to the World Cup final in South Africa—finishing as joint top-scorer.
To the dismay of some, the Dutchman was overlooked, but this time around, it would be difficult to single out one particular Bayern player, when numerous players have been largely instrumental behind the Bundesliga team’s success.
The data from the above table was sourced from Transfermarkt. The players' respective domestic league, Champions League and World Cup qualifying goal statistics for the 2013 calendar year have been collated, ensuring a level playing field.
Based on the data, it is evident that both Messi and Ronaldo are streets ahead of Ribery. Despite Messi just shading it in the statistics stake, Ronaldo has played almost double the Argentine's games, meaning his measured output effectively demonstrates his sheer and determined consistency in relentlessly delivering week in, week out.
Although Ribery is a distant third in this table, he would be a worthy recipient of one of the runner-up awards. But the main man on 13 January in Zurich can be no other than Cristiano Ronaldo, whose superb feats have been unrivaled in 2013.
*statistics sourced from ESPN and Transfermarkt.com