Lionel Messi is a better player than Cristiano Ronaldo because of his "intelligence," according to the Argentinian's ex-Barcelona teammate, Xavi. The former midfield general at the Camp Nou also believes his old club is among the favourites to win this season's UEFA Champions League and defend the trophy it claimed last season.
But 36-year-old Xavi, who currently plays for Qatari club Al Sadd SC, remains wary of the threat Ronaldo's Real Madrid pose in Europe's premier club competition.
Speaking to the New Arab (h/t Spanish publication Marca) ahead of the upcoming Clasico in La Liga, Xavi gave his opinion on the comparison between Messi and Ronaldo:
Messi is the best player in the world. In football, there are two important factors: fitness and intelligence. Ronaldo is very fit but Messi has both the fitness and the intelligence, so in short, Messi is better.
Xavi may be happy to talk who is better, but it's not a debate Messi welcomes. He shunned the comparison during a recent interview with Egyptian TV station MBC (h/t Spanish source Sport, via ESPN FC): "I don't compare myself to Cristiano nor to anyone. I only try to think of me, of my team-mates and win games."
That Xavi favours Messi in this debate is hardly a surprise. After all, the pair won every major honour during a golden period for Barca.
Among the haul of silverware Xavi's vision and Messi's free-scoring brilliance helped the Catalan club claim were four UEFA Champions League trophies. Now Xavi believes Messi and his current teammates can win another European Cup, per Marca:
Obviously, I want my team Barcelona to win the title. I think they are the most likely to win along with Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, however we must be wary of Real Madrid because when they're inconsistent in the league they usually play better in the Champions League.
Retaining the trophy would make history for Barca, since no other club has managed it during the Champions League era. Meanwhile, winning a sixth European Cup would help redress the imbalance with bitter enemy Madrid, who have claimed the continent's premier prize a record 10 times.
But while those look like daunting tasks even for a squad this talented, winning back-to-back La Liga titles seems easily in Barcelona's reach.
Manager Luis Enrique's side is currently nine points clear at the top, per Yahoo Sports, and 10 clear of third-placed Real ahead of this season's second Clasico.
Xavi has many fond memories of his old team's annual rivalry with Los Blancos. But he singled out two in particular: "The 'Clasico' is without doubt the most exciting match of the season, and the most exciting match a player can be part of in their career. I have lots of great memories, but the two that stick out the most are the landmark matches when we beat Real Madrid 5-0 and 6-2."
Xavi would likely have enjoyed this season's first meeting between the two storied clubs, a game Barca won 4-0 in the Spanish capital. Back on home soil, and with Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all in peak form, Barcelona have to be favourites to win the second Clasico and kill off any faint hopes Madrid still entertain of winning the title.
If Messi outshines Ronaldo again, few will be able to dispute Xavi's view about who is the better player.
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