Messi versus Ronaldo article number 95367185 and counting.

The context:

TJ, a neutral fan:
Ronaldo being a better goal scorer than Lionel Messi is a myth.”

Bob, a Manchester United fan:
“U missing the big picture. Football is a team sport. Messi has had the better supporting cast.”

Me, a moron who should probably stay away from Twitter as much as possible:
“It’s Ronaldo who has depended more on his team for goals. Look at all the goals both players have scored and compare for how many goals Messi had to dribble past 1 or more players first OR had to combine first with the player who assisted him OR scored from outside the box…”

“Barsalev, I was talking to TJ cos he seemed neutral / U are on payroll of Barça, no comments for you.”

Mind you that this is not Bob’s fault. Nothing can be gained from Messi versus Ronaldo debates and even less so on the Internet. This is my fault. I bit at bait that wasn’t even angled at me. Really, I don’t know what got into me but I am a moron who should  probably stay away from Twitter as much as possible. Of course I replied:
“No bias, just facts. Tally their goals as follows:

  • From outside the box
  • After dribbling
  • Set up the assist before the assist
  • Assisted
  • Tap-ins
  • Penalties

Don’t take my word for it, tally their goals and see for yourself who depends more on their team.”

“Too much work. Would love to see the stats though!”

Of course it is too much work for Bob, a Manchester United fan. Bob is a smart man. It takes more than a moron to tally the almost 1250 goals Messi and Ronaldo scored and sort them according to categories to determine who is the better goal scorer and who depends more on his team for scoring. It takes an absolute fucking idiot.

Before we continue, let’s get one thing clear: I am your absolute fucking idiot. And no Bob, I am not doing this for you. I have not yet sunk that low in life. I am doing this because it is the right thing to do. Because I like playing percentages and the world needs an answer. Because God knows there are not enough Ronaldo versus Messi articles on the Internet. Because when nobody is left, I am always right.

I’m tackling penalties first, so we can then eliminate them from all the other goals scored.

Messi Ronaldo Penalties

Messi has scored 76 penalties during games, which make up 12.6% of all his goals, versus 101 for Ronaldo or 15.8% of his total goal tally. Interestingly Messi has taken 23 penalties less than Ronaldo but missed 2 more. It should come as no surprise to followers of both players that Ronaldo’s conversion rate from 11 yards is higher (83% vs 77%). Another interesting fact is that neither has ever missed a penalty in a Clasico (and they have taken plenty).

So there, penalties are done with. I don’t look down on the scoring of penalties but let’s be fair, you don’t have to be a great goal scorer to be a great penalty taker. Also it is entirely possible that if another player from their respective teams would be designated penalty shooters, the conversion rates of penalties for their teams would not be all that different. To be clear, however, Messi is a great goal scorer but not a great taker of penalties while Ronaldo is great at both.

To measure how great they are at scoring goals, I will leave penalties out of the equation. Henceforth when I say “all goals” or any of its variants, I mean “all goals WITHOUT penalties.”

Messi Ronaldo Assisted Goals

61.7% of Messi’s non-penalty goals have come from assists. Ronaldo’s percentage stands considerably higher at 71.7%. At a very basic level this means that Messi depends less on his team than Ronaldo. Looking at this a bit deeper, 17.5% of Messi’s assisted goals came after he himself passed the ball to set up his teammate for the assist. Ronaldo? A measly 1.8%. 17.4% of the Portuguese striker’s goals come from crosses, almost twice as much as Messi’s 8.9%. Of the total amount of assists they receive, 27.1% leave Messi alone with the keeper versus 23.8% for Ronaldo.

Messi Ronaldo 1 on 1s

20.7 % of all of Messi’s goals are scored from one on ones. 88 of those were assisted, and an additional 21 came after dribbling through the defense or intercepting the ball from an opponent.

Ronaldo scored 96 one on ones, which constitutes 18.1% of his total goals scored. Only 6 were unassisted.

When one on one, Messi chipped, lobbed or scooped the ball over the goalkeeper an astonishing 34.9%. He dribbled past the keeper 22.9% of the time. 13.6% of the times he dribbled past the keeper he did so by chipping the ball over the keeper first.

Ronaldo chipped or lobbed the keeper 7% of the time and dribbled past him on 10.2% of his one on one goals. He also dribbled the keeper with a chip once, but it kind of looked like an accident. Most of the times he just blasts the ball past either side of the keeper and this works very well for him, especially because he is an ambidextrous finisher.

Messi Ronaldo Shots From Open Play

Both the skill of Messi and the extent over which foot he prefers can be described as follows:


Just shoot with your right

Right he dribbles to his left

Boom another goal


After removing free kicks out of the equation (and penalties as well, in case you had forgotten), and looking purely at the goals scored with their feet, Messi has used his left foot 85.7% of the time. His right foot is his only weakness, as despite the fact that he has scored right-footed goals with power (Copa del Rey final 2012), precision (Villareal game winner 2015 placed in the top corner from outside the box) and finesse (Hi, Neuer!), a disproportionate amount of Messi’s right-footed goals are tap-ins. There are still a lot of game situations in which he wastes an opportunity by trying to move it to his left. Of course his skill on the ball and the magic of his left foot have made him the best player in the world, so yeah, there is that.

Now over to Ronaldo, for whom I will not write a haiku no matter how many times he asks me. Ok, ok, don’t twist my arm already, I got you covered, Chris, here you go:


One can of oil

Dripping from his well-groomed head

His teeth are so white


Poetry aside, this man is an absolute beast with either foot. Sure, most of his goals are scored with his right (69.2%) and with all things being equal, he will set himself up to shoot with his right, however he can get almost as much power and precision out of his left. He will therefore never switch to his stronger foot when shooting with the left is the best option and he is absolutely lethal with both. There is no weakness here, only strength.

Messi Ronaldo Headers

Messi is no slouch when it comes to headers and he has scored all kinds ranging from the epic, to the cheeky to the diving and occasionally to the ones where he outmuscles defenders who are bigger than him to head the ball into the net, but again, it should come as no surprise Ronaldo is a lot stronger in the air than Barcelona’s number 10.

CR7 has scored over a 100 headers which make up more than 17% of his goals. His strength, his size and his powerful vertical leap give him an enormous advantage when battling defenders for crosses. There are goals and situations where you know the person providing the cross can just throw it in there knowing that Cristiano Ronaldo will get to it, almost as if a man is playing basketball among children.

Messi Ronaldo Set Pieces

Tying into headers are the set piece statistics. 6.7% of Ronaldo’s goals have come from set pieces. It’s a clear strength of his game.

It took Messi hundreds and hundreds of goals before he headed in a corner, and his two other set piece goals came from free kicks that were taken quickly and passed over the ground. I wouldn’t say this is a weakness of his game but rather that it is not his game at all. He is way more likely to either take the free kick or corner or to stand close by and receive a short pass. Barcelona want the ball at Messi’s feet, not in the air.

Messi Ronaldo Free Kicks

The only comparison that surprised me while tallying the goals was the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more free kicks than Messi. He scored a huge amount of free kicks while still at Manchester United and during his first seasons at Real M*drid, but his skill has waned during the last couple of years. Messi’s conversion rate is a lot higher.

It is inexplicable to me how Ronaldo has stopped becoming a free kick specialist, especially since his professionalism and dedication is well known. Maybe in his arrogance he feels he doesn’t need to train this aspect of his game, but the truth is that nowadays he only almost scores when the wall ducks the free kick.

Messi didn’t become a specialist until the 2012-13 season, but he hasn’t let up since. He tends to score his free kicks in batches, alternating months without a successful free kick with scoring 3 or 4 within a couple of weeks.

Messi Ronaldo Dribbling

Funny enough a lot of culés claim Ronaldo can not dribble to save his life. When he does those useless stepovers from a standing position, yeah, it is fun to make fun of him, but don’t kid yourselves. Even today now that his dribbling is no longer as good as when he was younger, if he runs at a defender with speed that defender will back off, which gives Ronaldo space for a shot. If the defender doesn’t back off, Ronaldo will blast by him, and since he’s fully ambidextrous he can go by the defender either way to set up the kill.

This doesn’t mean he compares to the king. Lionel Messi can nutmeg a one-legged man in a wheelchair. Do I need to say more?

Messi Ronaldo Outside of the Box Goals

Messi just edges Ronaldo in long distance shots, having scored 6 more. Only two of those were with his right foot, while Ronaldo has scored 30.4% of his goals from outside the box with his left. Also, although I did not tally this, Ronaldo’s range his bigger as he can score goals from further out than Messi. The Argentine has a lot higher conversion rate, however, although I do not have any numbers available for this. Giving Lionel Messi space around the edge of the penalty area is a mistake many opponents end up regretting.

Messi Ronaldo Tap-ins

Barça Twitter will have you believe that Ronaldo only scores penalties and tap-ins. This was what I was most curious about before reviewing their goals. Before tallying I framed a tap-in as a scoring opportunity in which both the keeper and the defenders are already as good as beat. A goal from up close where you still need to beat the keeper does not qualify as a tap-in, nor does a header at an open goal for which you still need to outjump a defender.

Along these lines, Ronaldo scores a higher number of tap-ins so that is noticable, but not nearly enough to dismiss him as a tap-in merchant. However if you combine penalties and tap-ins versus total goals and you get this:

Messi: 22.8%
Ronaldo: 29.5%

with the latter scoring a combined 51 penalties and tap-ins more than Messi. Moreover, if you remove penalties and tap-ins from their total amount of goals, Messi has scored 464 against Ronaldo’s 449.

Penalties and tap-ins are still goals, though.

Messi Ronaldo Skill shots

When it comes to skill shots, Ronaldo is a bit flashier, mostly because he tries. He has scored 7 backheels and I am genuinely curious if this is a world record (maybe he shares it with Zlatan?). Two of those backheels were volleys and another two were low crosses which he met behind his leg.

Being a target man, Ronaldo has also scored more volleys, with Messi’s 14 actually being a bit higher than I expected. In addition of his 21 volleys, CR7 also scored with a bicycle kick. Of course Messi was never interested in becoming a running joke before finally scoring one. He might have attempted two or three in his career and only because it made sense.

The goat is flashy in his own way. How he mazes through defenders before beating the keeper. His endless barrage of chips and finesse shots. The efficiency at which he operates, which makes great goals seem ordinary because we have seen him do it so often.

Messi Ronaldo ratio

Last but not least I have looked at how often they have scored. If you give me forty years, I can do more push-ups than Vin Diesel in two weeks. Ronaldo started his professional career two seasons earlier than Messi and has also missed less games due to injury.

If you take the amount of goals they scored versus the amount of games they have played, Messi is by far superior. Remove penalties from those numbers and the ratio of goals per game is as follows (note that Messi’s ratio excluding penalties is the same as Ronaldo’s ratio of goals per game with penalties.

Messi: 0.76
Ronaldo: 0.64


I am drawing two conclusions from all the above, both of which break myths held by those who favor Messi and those who favor Ronaldo.

Conclusion number ONE
Ronaldo is one of the best footballers in history. Like many culés I have often claimed he would probably just rank outside the top 10, but after reviewing all of his goals I can only rate him higher. He has scored all kinds of goals throughout his career, from long distance missiles to dribbling through defenses to powerful headers to weak-foot chips and so on and so on and he has done so consistently for over a decade.

Conclusion number TWO
The narrative that Messi is the greatest footballer and Ronaldo is the greatest goal scorer is a false one. Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer and the greatest goal scorer. His goal to game ratio is higher and would only rise if we discount penalties.

Conclusion number THREE
Stay away from Internet debates that compare Messi and Ronaldo.

By Levon

Culé since way before football boots were of the neon yellow and lizard green variety, Levon is a deep thinker with increasingly shallow thoughts. He lives in Barcelona with his gorgeous wife and daughter. The lucky bastard...


  1. People compare Messi with the other 2 greatest and cant find any more justifications to accept the obvious, except the number of WC won by them.
    Same people compare Ronaldo with Messi.
    Ronaldo is great in what he does, scoring goals, and thats it. But ask whoever fan you want (not kids of 15 y) who do they consider greater: real Ronaldo or this Ronaldo and most of them if not all will give you the same answer: Da Lima.
    Sugestion to football lovers: less statistics and more the game itself.
    Football will never be the same after Messi retires.

  2. Though the conclusions were evident even before the investigation, it was very interesting to see the numbers. For anyone who has actually followed them both throughout the years, the tap-in accusation is ludicrous, and the nrs affirm this perception. Too much is made from the last years, since that’s when Cristiano started winning more – and, I would guess, become more dependent on his team for goals, while – again, I guess – Messi less so.

    Obviously, Messi DID have a better team, but become more OF the team as time passed and Xavi waned, while CR became less of a main man (team play wise) as Modric (and Kroos) took the reins. That it is still a competition, despite their current roles, is another point for Messi.

    Still, I don’t like the goal comparison (even though I understand where it came from), since it – despite every good intention – reinforces that goals are the measure for greatness. Which would put Maradona out of the GOAT game. But then it becomes about WCs, so…

    I will stop the rambling – thanks for the work, Lev!

  3. Can you find out how decisive they are for their respective teams? For example, how frequently does Messi score the equalizer or the winner compared to Ronaldo? Would be interesting to see that one.

  4. How many Left footed chipped goals does cristino have? vs Messi’s right footed chipped goals?

  5. Thank you Levon.
    I’m a green cule. Unlike most people here, I have not followed the development of these two extraordinary players for that long. Still, I find all stats, – regardless of how meticulously researched and fair-minded they are – useless. That is, they don’t diminish or enhance my partiality towards Messi. Messi moves me, Ronaldo doesn’t. It’s that simple. It’s the aesthetics of their respective plays, not their goal numbers that makes the difference to me. In terms of painting, Messi is ‘Rembrandt’ and Ronaldo is ‘Michelangelo, The painter’. For this cule’s sensibility, Michelangelo was a glorious genius in sculpture and drawing. Painting, not as much.

  6. Thanks Levon! Good read. Even though you got hectored by Kxevin! I especially like the statistic of who assisted the assister. A difference like that is telling.

    So why did you choose this photo of Messi? Is he grimacing at all the numbers?

Comments are closed.