Good times and bad times for the world’s greatest players
It’s been a week of contrasting fortunes for the world’s two greatest players. Cristiano Ronaldo, fresh from his fifth Champions League hat-trick (and incredibly his third of the season), spent Thursday enjoying a bit of family time with Cristiano junior whilst Lionel Messi, in comparison, would have been facing up to his side’s elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Atletico Madrid, ensuring no team has successfully defended their European title since AC Milan back in 1988-99 and 1989-90. The word’s best players they may be, but no one is immune to the ups and downs that are part of the reality of football.
— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) April 15, 2016
Chasing Champions League success
With Real Madrid having won the Champions League in 2013-14 and Barcelona claiming the title last year by overcoming Juventus in Berlin, it would be no surprise for Europe’s glittering club prize to be found in the hands of one of these great Spanish clubs by the end of the season once more. Yet entering this week’s game, it was Los Blancos from Madrid who seemed to be the furthest from Champions League success this season. While Barca held a narrow lead over Atletico after overcoming the Madrid-based side 2-1 in the Nou Camp last week, Real found themselves in a hole after succumbing to a limp defeat in Germany by going down 2-0 to the less-heralded Wolfsburg. Yet from a position of weakness, a Ronaldo-inspired Real spectacularly came from behind to run out 3-0 winners and take the tie 3-2 on aggregate – all of the goals coming from either the boot of the head of the aforementioned Portuguese superstar. Real Madrid’s official Twitter feed was full of praise for their iconic number 7.
— Real Madrid C. F. (@realmadrid) April 13, 2016
Over to the other side of Madrid for Wednesday night’s game where Barca held a slim advantage, a Fernando Torres away goal in the first leg ensuring Atleti would qualify with a 1-0 win. 2-1 is a dangerous scoreline, and so it proved as an Antoine Griezmann strike in the first half meant the Catalans required a goal to qualify. Indeed, in chasing that all-important goal, Barcelona were left exposed at the back, and Atleti secured the tie with a breakaway which led to a penalty, cooly converted by Griezemann. Barcelona will, have felt aggrieved late on when a Gabi handball was incorrectly deemed to have been committed outside of the box. Messi curled the subsequent free-kick over the bar, which was to be his final touch of the game and the end of Barcelona’s chances of Champions League success this season. And so both sides of Madrid rejoiced, whilst Champions League glory this year was to become a fantasy for the giants from Catalunia and the little wizard that is Messi. Barca boss Luis Enrique was philosophical in defeat.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 13, 2016
Ronaldo’s Champions League Achievements
Tuesday night at the Santiago Bernabeu saw Real Madrid qualify for the Champions League semi-finals for a sixth consecutive season, and saw Cristiano Ronaldo net his 14th, 15th and 16th Champions League goals of the season. Currently only the Portuguese forward himself can lay claim to a better goalscoring record in Europe’s premier club competition, netting 17 in 2013-14 in contributing to his side’s victory – interestingly over city rivals Atletico who had also knocked-out Barcelona on their way to the final in Lisbon. Combined with his 30 La Liga goals, Ronaldo now has 46 goals this season in just 42 games, with a further 15 assists, yet it is in the Champions League where his most special performances have been reserved, with the forward now boasting a record 93 goals in in 125 Champions League appearances (10 more than Messi), 34 goals and 8 assists in 36 Champions League knockout matches, as well as the feat of scoring in 62 different Champions League matches; more than any other player (Raul is second with 56). Yet the man who almost single-handedly dragged his team back from the brink of elimination on Tuesday night was understated in his reaction, simply stating:
Great win today! ✌️⚽️ Thanks for all your support! pic.twitter.com/TCerW9EWtN
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) April 12, 2016
Problems for Messi?
Things could not be more different for Lionel Messi right now after his side’s elimination from the Champions League added to a run of form which has seen the Catalan giants lose consecutive La Liga games to Real and Real Sociedad, see their lead at the top pf La Liga cut to three points, and saw the Argentine wizard extend his run of matches without scoring or contributing an assist to five matches – the worst run of form in his professional career. Indeed, this is now Messi’s longest goal drought since 2010, and on Wednesday he did not even look like scoring as he failed to register a shot on target in a Champions League game for the first time since 2014 – also against Atletico. It is worth mentioning that this unusual run of form for the Argentine coincides with his search for his 500th career goal, yet in an injury affected season, Messi has still scored six goals in seven Champions League matches, and has added 22 goals in 27 La Liga appearances in an injury curtailed season. That total of 28 goals in 34 games is far from a poor return, but is some way behind the little Argentine’s scintillating best, and of course the exploits of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Champions League, La Liga and Copa Del Rey
Friday’s Champions League draw is eagerly anticipated as Real and Cristiano Ronaldo wait to see if they will be reunited with their city rivals Atletico who they famously defeated in the 2014 final. With Bayern Munich and Manchester City also remaining in the competition, a victory for Real is far from guaranteed, but victory in El Clasico seems to have turned around their season, and also represented a new dynamic in the relationship between Ronaldo and his teammates –
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) April 2, 2016
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane and his star forward will now believe anything and everything is possible, especially with Barcelona in rotten form and having had their lead in La Liga cut to just three points from Atleti and four from Real. Champions League glory – what would be an eleventh success – remains the priority, though, for Los Blancos, yet they will still harbour hopes of overcoming their great rivals in the league too. For Messi and Co. there remains the possibility of a La Liga and Copa Del Rey double (Barcelona will meet Sevilla in the final on 22nd May) – resounding success in the eyes of any other club but an achievement that may still be tinged with regret after failing to retain their Champions League title. On the face of it, the club are remaining optimistic –
We want La Liga and the Copa del Rey! On Sunday, everyone to Camp Nou! https://t.co/mfzaPv1A2w
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 15, 2016
Individually, the race for Europe’s ‘Golden Shoe’ is heavily titled in Cristiano Ronaldo’s favour, with the Portuguese superstar on 30 goals in La Liga – eight ahead of his great rival. And with Messi currently holding the Ballon ‘Dor award for the world’s greatest player, a ‘Golden Shoe’ award in a season where Real once again win the Champions League would surely once again see the coveted prize exchange hands between these two footballing gods once more.
To win the Champions League
Bayern Munich 2.50
Real Madrid 2.87
Atletico Madrid 4.50
Manchester City 8.50
La Liga – To Win Outright
Barcelona – 1.10
Atletico Madrid – 13.00
Real Madrid – 13.00
Copa Del Rey
Barcelona 1.28, Draw 6.00, Sevilla 8.50
All odds courtesy of bet365 and correct as of 15.30 GMT on 15/04/16
By: Steven Paget