Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo: Stat Talk

Jason DouglasContributor IIDecember 6, 2010

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 29:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid (R) and Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona look on during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou Stadium on November 29, 2010 in Barcelona, Spain.  Barcelona won the match 5-0.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

Lionel Messi is the best football player in the world. His technical brilliance was on full display in El Clasico as Barcelona crushed Real Madrid 5-0.

But do we really understand just how special he is as a player? Based on statistics available from ESPN, I looked at Leo’s performance so far this season. As a point of reference, I compared these numbers with those produced by Cristiano Ronaldo over the same period of time.

So far in 2010-2011, Leo has scored 13 times in 11 La Liga games for a rate of 1.18 goals per game (GPG). He’s provided seven assists so far for a rate of 0.64 assists per game (APG).

More telling, I think, are his shot statistics.  So far this season he’s taken a total of 52 shots. That translates to an average of 4.73 shots per game (SPG). He’s scored 13 times out of the 52 shots he’s taken. Thus, he’s scoring 25 percent of the time he strikes the ball. That’s an amazing rate of accuracy. But wait…it gets better. Of his 52 total shots, 28 were on goal for an accuracy rate of 54 percent! If we disregard shots that were wide of the mark and focus only on shots on goal, then his scoring rate on goal is 46 percent.

As a reference point, let’s look at the same stats for Cristiano Ronaldo.

So far in 2010-2011, Cristiano has scored 14 times in 12 matches for a rate of 1.17 GPG. He’s distributed five assists over that time for an assist ratio of 0.42 APG. Fairly comparable numbers.

So far this season he’s taken 95 shots—nearly double Leo’s total output. That’s good for a rate of 7.92 SPG! He’s scored 14 times out of the 95 shots he’s taken. Thus, he scored 15 percent of the time he struck the ball. This is nearly half Leo’s rate, which makes sense since he’s taken twice as many shots. Of his 95 total shots, 35 were on goal, meaning 37 percent of his total shots were on goal.  If we disregard shots that were wide of the net and focus only on shots on goal, then he scored 40 percent of the time his shots were actually on goal. This is again, well behind Messi, mostly because Leo took half as many shots.

I also thought it might be interesting to see which player is fouled the most. In other words, which player has to work harder to score? So far this season, Leo has suffered 17 fouls in 11 games for a rate of 1.5 fouls suffered per game. Cristiano by contrast has suffered 34 fouls in 12 games for a rate of 2.8 fouls suffered per game (nearly double). Cristiano also suffered more fouls per game last year (3.4 vs. 2.8 for Leo), though the prior two years Leo led the way with (3.1 vs. 2.5 and 3.1 vs. 2.6) respectively. Thus, both players are fouled quite heavily and really have to work for their shots.

Let’s turn that idea on its head. So far this season, Lionel Messi has committed/given 11 fouls against opposing players while suffering 17. That’s a ratio of 1.5 more fouls suffered than given. This can mean a few things. It could mean that he doesn’t play a lot of defense and thus doesn’t commit many fouls. Cristiano on the other hand has only given 9 fouls against while suffering 34 fouls so far this season. Thus he’s suffering 3.8 more fouls than he’s dishing out (more than double Leo’s rate). This means that Ronaldo is being fouled a lot more than Leo (34 vs. 17 so far). But in dishing out fewer fouls himself that means he’s either an incredibly disciplined defender or he isn’t playing much defense.

Ideally, these statistics should be converted to a per-minute basis but as I don’t have a reliable source for minutes played, that’s difficult to do.  But, the point of this article was to give an impression of how the two best players in the world compare to each other.  I hope you enjoyed it.