Messi vs. Ronaldo: Who Was Better in 2011?

Anurag BhattCorrespondent IDecember 27, 2011

Messi vs. Ronaldo: Who Was Better in 2011?

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    Who is better? Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo? This is a question that divides most football fans unlike any other. Each side is backed by vehement arguments, and neither camp typically refuses to give an inch in this debate.

    What people do agree on, however, is that both these players had an absolutely phenomenal time in 2011. Both scored over 50 goals and made over 20 assists each. Both won some trophies. Both tasted victory against each other in eight highly entertaining matches.

    Here, we have analyzed the performances of Messi and Ronaldo throughout 2011 in an attempt to affirm which one of these two had the better year.  

Round 1: Head-to-Head Matches

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    2011 gave us plenty of chances to examine both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo playing against each other on the same pitch. Messi and Ronaldo played one international friendly and seven competitive club matches over the course of the year.

    In this round, we will compare the performances of both players in each of these games. At the end of each slide, we have assigned a subjective rating to the performance of each player in that particular match.

    Let us see how Ronaldo and Messi played against each other this year.

La Liga Clasico: Santiago Bernabeu, 16th April

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    The first of four Clasicos in a span of 18 days saw Barcelona and Real Madrid draw 1-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid needed a win in this match to stay alive in the Spanish title race.

    Lionel Messi's performance

    By his usual standards, this was a rather subdued performance from Messi. He was well restricted by Pepe, who was employed by Jose Mourinho in a holding midfield role. He managed to test Casillas with a good shot before scoring Barcelona's opening goal with a penalty in the 52nd minute. There were few exceptional moments, if any. Most of his game was restricted to some quality link-up play with the rest of the team.

    Cristiano Ronaldo's performance

    Ronaldo had a freekick on target early on in the match. His runs up and down the flank were mostly restricted by Barcelona's full-backs. He did have a good chance to score in a foray into the box, but was blocked well by Barcelona's Adriano. He also had a header cleared off the line. However, he did break his goal scoring drought against Barcelona by smashing home a late penalty, which equalized the match.

    Messi: 7/10

    Ronaldo: 7/10

Spanish Cup Final: Mestalla, 20th April

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    Four days after a rather dull game, Barcelona and Real Madrid met again at the Mestalla in Valencia to compete for the Copa del Rey. Real Madrid won this match in extra time through a Cristiano Ronaldo header.

    Lionel Messi's performance

    Messi had one of the most frustrating nights of his career in this match. Real Madrid's defensive players marked him in twos and threes, leaving him unable to work his magic for most of the match. He was denied a potential assist late in the match when Pedro's goal from his pass was ruled out for offside. Other than that, however, he did not manage to impose himself on the game.

    Cristiano Ronaldo's performance

    Ronaldo did not have the best of games until he rose high to score a header past Jose Manuel Pinto deep in extra time. He wasted a few chances early on and was generally restricted by Barcelona's defense. He should have scored earlier, but was unable to finish. However, he did win Real Madrid their first trophy in nearly three years with his headed goal.

    Messi: 6.5/10

    Ronaldo: 7.5/10

UEFA Champions League Semifinal Leg 1: Santiago Bernabeu, 27th April

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    Lionel Messi rescued the most cynical match in recent history with two pieces of absolute magic. After 75 minutes of hacking, slashing, diving and crowding the ref by both sides, the score was still 0-0. Messi then scored two crucial away goals to give Barcelona a huge advantage in terms of away goals.

    Lionel Messi's performance

    Until he scored his first goal, this was a rather frustrating match for Lionel Messi. Real Madrid defended deep and did not give an inch, rendering Messi mostly helpless once he reached the final third. However, he then scored two brilliant goals, which proved to be crucial.

    His first goal was a very well-timed run to meet Afellay's cross ahead of his marker. It was his second goal, though, which truly showed his worth as a player. From a seemingly harmless position on the halfway line, Messi took the ball from Barcelona midfielder Xavi and set off on an unstoppable run, leaving several Real Madrid players in his wake before finishing coolly past Real Madrid's Iker Casillas. The Real Madrid custodian was so stunned that he could only stand with outstretched arms as Messi ran past him to celebrate in front of the fans.

    Cristiano Ronaldo's performance 

    Ronaldo endured a very frustrating night chasing down shadows as the Barcelona defenders passed the ball all around him. He was left as Real Madrid's lone striker up front, and the duty to press the Catalans thus fell squarely on his shoulders. Unable to get close to Barcelona's goal due to a lack of support, Ronaldo was relegated to a few scattered long range shots, which Victor Valdes dealt with without any trouble.

    All in all, a very underwhelming night for the Portuguese, though to be fair, he was not helped by Real Madrid's extremely defensive tactics.

    Lionel Messi: 9/10

    Cristiano Ronaldo: 5.5/10

UEFA Champions League Semifinal Leg 2: Camp Nou, 3rd May

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    A far more docile match than the previous leg saw Real Madrid line up in a much more attacking manner and attempt to play a more open game. The match ended 1-1, though the score-line did not do much justice to Barcelona's dominance, which lasted from the first whistle to the last.

    Lionel Messi's performance

    After his scintillating brace at the Bernabeu, Messi opened the sparring at the Camp Nou with some delightful running and link-up play. In the absence of Pepe, he managed to stretch Real Madrid's defense even more than usual, peppering Iker Casillas with shots from all sorts of angles. He had two good shots on target narrowly saved by the Real Madrid goalkeeper and sent another shot whistling past the post. Though he did not score or assist Barcelona's goal, his overall link up play and running caused Real Madrid a host of problems.

    Cristiano Ronaldo's performance

    Despite having much more attacking support than in the match at the Bernabeu, Ronaldo once again found himself thwarted by Barcelona's sturdy, and at times, almost last-ditch defending. He was extremely unfortunate to be responsible for Real Madrid's goal being disallowed when he was judged to have fouled Mascherano in the build up. Replays would show this to be a rather harsh decision. However, he was well restricted throughout the game and did not manage to get a sight of the Barcelona goal himself.

    Lionel Messi: 7.5/10

    Cristiano Ronaldo: 6/10

Spanish Super Cup Final Leg 1: Santiago Bernabeu, 14th August

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    The first competitive match after a hectic preseason saw Barcelona and Real Madrid face off at the Bernabeu for Spanish Supercopa honours. The match was dominated by Real Madrid, but they were frustrated by two moments of individual brilliance by Lionel Messi and David Villa, which kept the score at 2-2.

    Lionel Messi's performance

    Messi seemed tired after his Copa America sojourn and was mostly marked out of the game by a resurgent Madrid side. Despite this, he managed to seize on an error by Pepe to snatch the ball and score coolly past Iker Casillas for Barcelona's second goal, which also put them in a crucial 2-1 lead in hostile territory.

    It must also be noted that Messi suffered from a bout of vomiting during this match. He played all 90 minutes of this match with an illness.

    Cristiano Ronaldo's performance

    Despite not getting on the scoresheet, Ronaldo had a better game than Messi. He troubled the stretched and makeshift Barcelona defense on a number of occasions. His shots also tested Valdes and gave Barcelona a lot of nervous moments.

    His efforts, however, were for naught due to Barcelona's resilience, which meant they walked out of the Bernabeu with a draw and two away goals. A rather unfortunate night for Ronaldo.

    Lionel Messi: 7/10

    Cristiano Ronaldo: 7.5/10

Spanish Super Cup Leg 2: Camp Nou, 17th August

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    Three days after a subdued performance at the Bernabeu, Messi came to life in Barcelona's 3-2 win over Real Madrid, scoring two of Barcelona's goals and setting up the third. 

    Lionel Messi's performance

    An utterly outstanding 90 minutes from the Argentine left Real Madrid completely battered and stunned. It all started in the 15th minute when Messi's exquisite through pass sliced open the Real Madrid defense and released Andres Iniesta through on goal for Barcelona's first.

    Ronaldo leveled the scores, but at the stroke of halftime, Messi seized onto a lovely back heel from Gerard Pique, jinked past two players and left Ronaldo himself trailing in his wake as he unleashed a low shot past Casillas for Barcelona's second goal. 

    Karim Benzema cancelled this goal out as well in the 81st minute. As the minutes wore down and the tie looked to be going into extra time, Messi rose to smash home a cross from Adriano on the right flank to win Barcelona the trophy.

    Cristiano Ronaldo's performance

    Despite a solid performance, Ronaldo will want to forget this game because of the way in which he and his team were thoroughly outclassed by Lionel Messi and Barcelona. He did score an opportunistic goal to cancel out Iniesta's opener, and was unlucky to see a fantastic shot deflected against the crossbar by Valdes.

    However, there was just no chance of him overshadowing the Argentine at the other end of the pitch who seemed to be in a world of his own.

    Lionel Messi: 10/10

    Cristiano Ronaldo: 7.5/10 

La Liga Clasico: Santiago Bernabeu, 10th December

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    Barcelona snatched a very crucial 3-1 win away at the Bernabeu in the first La Liga Clasico of the 2011-12 season. They were helped by an unlikely source—Cristiano Ronaldo himself.

    Lionel Messi's performance

    In this game, Messi gave a nearly workmanlike performance, showing very few glimpses of his brilliance. He harried the Real Madrid defenders and made some quality runs, but was far from his unstoppable best. He did manage to set up Alexis Sanchez for Barcelona's first goal, which canceled out Karim Benzema's opener. Other than that, there were few notable moments from the Argentine.

    Cristiano Ronaldo's performance

    A couple of well-positioned freekicks against the wall. A scuffed shot when a pass would have set a teammate clean through. A scuffed header from five yards out. A very poor day at the office indeed. Ronaldo's dismal performance in this match was even criticized gently by Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, who said:

    "In normal circumstances we can do it because we have a fantastic player in Cristiano Ronaldo who usually scores."

    Lionel Messi: 7/10

    Cristiano Ronaldo: 4/10

International Friendly: Argentina vs. Portugal, Geneva, 9th February

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    In a close match, a late Lionel Messi penalty was enough for Argentina to secure a 2-1 win over Portugal.

    Lionel Messi's performance

    Messi was involved in both the Argentine goals. For Argentina's first, he set up Angel di Maria at the end of a beautiful run. He then scored a late penalty, which allowed the Argentines to take the spoils.

    Cristiano Ronaldo's performance

    Cristiano Ronaldo cancelled out Angel di Maria's opener for Argentina when he scored a true poacher's goal from Joao Pereira's cross. His overall performance caused the Argentine defense some problems, but he could not do enough to ensure his team's victory.

    Lionel Messi: 7.5/10

    Cristiano Ronaldo: 7/10

Head-to-Head Summary

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    In eight head-to-head matches, the side Lionel Messi represented had a solid four wins. Cristiano Ronaldo was on the winning side once.

    In addition, Messi's side won both two-legged ties that the teams contested.

    Both players helped their teams win one trophy apiece as a direct consequence of these matches. 

    Lionel Messi's statistics

    Goals: 7

    Assists: 3

    Cristiano Ronaldo's statistics

    Goals: 4

    Assists: 0

Round 2: Other Matches in the Year 2011

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    A year is, of course, not built on just eight matches. What makes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo truly special is the frightening consistency with which they rip apart oppositions week in and week out. 

    2011 saw both Messi and Ronaldo demonstrate machine-like performances in almost every match they played. Every week in every competition, both these behemoths of the modern game demonstrated dominance rarely seen before in the history of football.

    Messi and Ronaldo have been integral to the fortunes of their respective club sides in 2011. We will now see just how consistent they were over the past 12 months, how much they were feared by oppositions and how much their individual talents mattered in their respective teams' successes.

Lionel Messi's Best Moments: Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal

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    After losing the first leg 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium, Barcelona welcomed Arsenal to the Camp Nou knowing that they would have to better that result to progress to the next round of the Champions League.

    The game remained locked at 0-0 until Lionel Messi came up with a piece of genius at the stroke of halftime. Latching onto Andres Iniesta's through pass, Messi found himself alone in front of Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia. Instead of rounding the keeper or stroking it past him, Messi chipped the ball straight up and volleyed it into the goal left exposed by the charging keeper.

    He then scored Barcelona's third goal with a coolly taken penalty in the 70th minute, which gave Barcelona the cushion that they needed to see the tie out. 

Barcelona 4-0 Santos

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    The Club World Cup final against Santos gave us yet another scintillating performance from Lionel Messi. He ran the Santos defense ragged from the first minute with his passing, movement and dribbling.

    In the 17th minute, he opened the scoring with a trademark chipped goal. Receiving a pass from Xavi from the edge of the area, he deftly controlled the ball and chipped the ball coolly past the onrushing Rafael Cabral. The speed with which he completed this move was astonishing.

    Late in the match, he finished off another move with trademark coolness. After being put through on goal, he lightly touched the ball to beat the hapless Cabral again before finishing into an empty goal for Barcelona's fourth.

    At the end of the match, Santos star Neymar remarked, "today we learned how to play futbol."

Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United

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    A Man of the Match performance in the Champions League Final—it cannot get any bigger than this.

    Lionel Messi tore apart Manchester United with a display from another dimension. His passing and dribbling kept one of the best defenses in the world on its toes all night at the Wembley stadium in London.

    His goal gave Barcelona a crucial 2-1 lead just after halftime. Despite Barcelona's dominance, they had not managed to impose themselves on the scoreline up to that point, and the chances of Manchester United coming back into the game were quite high. However, Messi unsettled the English side with a rasping shot from just outside the area, which evaded Edwin Van der Sar.

    Messi's performance in this match was credited with an official Man of the Match award for the best player in the Champions League final.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Best Moments: Real Madrid 3-1 Villarreal

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    Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brace in this match, which took his season's tally to 38 La Liga goals. This was particularly special because he equalled the record for the most goals in a single Spanish league season.

    Ronaldo's first goal came in the 22nd minute with a powerful freekick on the edge of the area. It was a trademark powerful Ronaldo effort. Throughout the match, he troubled the Villarreal defense with his pace and trickery, testing goalkeeper Diego Lopez time and again.

    He scored his second, record-equalling goal with another freekick in the 92nd minute. 

Real Madrid 6-2 Sevilla

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    In a match that was widely expected to be quite close, Real Madrid completely annihilated Sevilla at the Sanchez Pizjuan. In this match, Ronaldo scored an amazing four goals, all of which came from open play.

    His first goal came in the 31st minute with a half-volleyed effort from Pepe's headed cross. He then scored three goals in a 10-minute span between the 65th and 75th minutes to take the game far beyond Sevilla's reach.

    In this match, Ronaldo also reached 33 La Liga goals for the season, surpassing Lionel Messi's 32 goals for the same year. 

Statistical Summary

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      Lionel Messi Cristiano Ronaldo
    International goals 4 7
    Club goals 55 53
    Assists 35 17
    Passes attempted 1073 621
    Passes completed 909 517
    Pass completion 84.73% 83.3%
    Shots taken 85 102
    Minutes per chance created 36.7 45.2

    Note - Pass completion and shot statistics are for the period extending from August 2011-December 2011 only. They do not take into account matches that took place in the second half of the 2010-11 season.

    Shots taken and Minutes per chance created take into account only La Liga and Champions League matches during the year 2011.

    Statistics sourced from, and

Round 3: Team Trophies

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    A very obvious metric for the success of a team is the number of trophies it has won in a particular year. This metric is also crucial to ascertain the performances of the key players in the team.

    Both Barcelona and Real Madrid won trophies in 2011. In both clubs' campaigns, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had critical roles to play.

    Let us take a closer look at the campaigns of these clubs and how much their star players helped contribute to their success.

FC Barcelona: 5 Trophies

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    The trophies:

    Champions League 2010-11: Final against Manchester United

    La Liga 2010-11

    Spanish Super Cup 2011: Final against Real Madrid

    European Super Cup 2011: Final against FC Porto

    World Club Cup 2011: Final against Santos

    With an exceptional five trophies won, Barcelona had yet another outstanding season under manager Josep Guardiola. 

    Lionel Messi scored at least one goal in every cup final that Barcelona won. In addition, he was the second-highest goal scorer in the La Liga title race (the top scorer being Cristiano Ronaldo).

    Barcelona's resounding success was due in no small part to the way in which Messi lifted the club's goal-scoring burden time after time and game after game.

Real Madrid: 1 Trophy

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    The trophy:

    Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup): Final against FC Barcelona

    Despite progressing until the semifinals of the Champions League and snapping at FC Barcelona's heels for much of the La Liga campaign, Real Madrid were able to finish 2011 with only one trophy.

    This trophy was, however, won due to Cristiano Ronaldo's late header against FC Barcelona in the Spanish Cup final. Ronaldo was also Real Madrid's highest scorer in all competitions, beating the second placed Karim Benzema by more than 20 goals.

Final Round: Individual Honours

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    Finally, the football world offers rich rewards for the best-performing players in a year. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo led a clean-sweep of most of the awards on offer for the years 2010 and 2011.

    Let us take a look at the list of individual awards that Messi and Ronaldo won over the past year.

Lionel Messi

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    FIFA Ballon d'Or 2010

    UEFA Best Player in Europe 2010/11

    UEFA Champions League Top Goalscorer 2010/11

    World Soccer Player of the Year 2011

    La Liga Player of the Year 2011

    LFP Best Player 2010/11

    LFP Best Forward 2010/11

    Olimpia de Oro Award for the Best Argentine Athlete 2011

    L'Equipe Champion of Champions 2011

Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Pichichi Award for La Liga's Top Goalscorer 2010-11

    European Golden Shoe 2010-11

    Copa del Rey Top Goalscorer 2010-11

Final Verdict

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    Statistically, they may be close. However, after looking at the head-to-head record, individual awards and the contribution to the overall success of their respective teams, the clear conclusion is that Lionel Messi was better in 2011 than Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Messi was ever present in FC Barcelona's near clean sweep of every trophy available to win in 2011. His consistency and brilliance came together throughout the year. He not only aided Barcelona in completely annihilating the opposition, but he also managed to get them out of some rather sticky situations. 

    Ronaldo had an excellent individual season. In the absence of Messi, the chances are ripe that he would have helped Real Madrid sweep every trophy they could have won. However, he was unfortunate that Messi decided to be in even more exceptional form throughout the year.