Lionel Messi

Winning the Ballon d’Or last year hasn’t made Cristiano Ronaldo the best footballer in the world. It’s hard to argue with numbers: He is scoring at a scary ratio and is doing it better than anyone else right now. But the best player? That’s Lionel Messi, even without the same number of goals.

After scoring four goals against Elche, Ronaldo is now at nine league goals in four matches and 12 overall this season in eight matches in all competitions. Lionel Messi? He is “just” at three league goals in four matches, and three out of five in all competitions. Seemingly, if this is just a numbers game, a different class completely.

But there’s a reason why Barcelona haven’t lost a single match so far, going a perfect four-for-four in the league. Real Madrid have dropped six points – a home loss to Atletico Madrid and away to Real Sociedad. Ronaldo played in just one of those matches and still, comparing the two of them always leaves Ronaldo on the losing side.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Maybe it’s the eye test. Maybe it’s personal bias and opinion that makes the final decision in the favor of Messi. But Ronaldo succeed in one way, one style, one position. He does just one thing on the pitch. He’s an amazing scorer in a number of different ways, but that’s the only thing he does. When it doesn’t work, and there are ways to slow him down, he can drag his entire team with him. Messi has bad days – he had plenty of them last season. But unlike Ronaldo, he actually makes players around him better, and not just by mere presence.

The last two league wins for Barcelona were perfect examples. Messi led them late with two assists to Neymar in the 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao, and provided two more assists in the 5-0 win over Levante. He also scored a goal and missed a penalty kick. Right now it looks like he’s more about making up for the changes in the Barcelona midfield than getting involved in a scoring race. Unlike Ronaldo, sometimes the best thing for Barcelona is for Messi to set up others instead of looking for the goals himself.

The argument will never die – not while both of them are playing at such a high level. Ronaldo has passed Messi on the Champions League scoring lists, and now will probably be the man to overtake Raul first. Individually, he probably also had the better season which might mean another Ballon d’Or. This time he won’t have to threaten to boycott the award ceremony in order to get it. Last season it was going to be Frank Ribery’s until Blatter, out of the blue, changed his mind.

Messi can score like Ronaldo, but it’s not certain that’s the best thing for Barcelona right now. That change and emphasis on being a set up guy might get stronger once Luis Suarez returns. Real Madrid, without Cristiano Ronaldo, look lost, despite the stars and big names. But it doesn’t have to do with him making others better. It’s simply because he’s that good as a solo performer. It might get him an incredible number of goals, but when it comes to who gives more to his team, Lionel Messi is still a little bit ahead, and probably always will be.

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