Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are 'impossible to replace' says Gary Lineker

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Rivals who have mutual respect: Ronaldo and Messi.

There will never be two players like Real Madrid legend Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona icon Lionel Messi again, according to former England and Blaugrana striker Gary Lineker.

While both stars are not close to retirement yet, Ronaldo at 33 and Messi aged 30, are nearer to the end of their world-beating careers than the start.

That said, the La Liga duo are still very much performing at the peak of their powers.

For Lineker, who enjoyed a three-season spell at the Camp Nou in the late 1980s, he feels the Spanish top-flight has been the world’s best league for some time, mainly because of the success of Ronaldo and Messi.

But, with the Premier League’s stock rising ever more, the 57-year-old feels La Liga – as a brand – will take a massive hit whenever either the famed twosome move on or retire.

“The two of them are now getting towards the back end of their careers, and when they go, which sadly for all of us they will, it is going to be impossible to replace them,” Lineker, who scored 48 times for England, told Planet Football.

“You have to remember that Real Madrid and Barcelona have a magical appeal to players all over the world and can generally sign who they want, but they have had Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi at their peak for the last few years, which has been a deciding factor in so many big games.

“I would say we (the Premier League) have halved the gap that was there a couple of years back, and with the money in the English game we should get even closer in the next couple of years.”

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Barcelona v Atletico Madrid player ratings as Lionel Messi scores an 8 and Diego Costa gets a 5

Andy West 5/03/2018
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Barcelona saw off the last true challenge to their push for the La Liga title, as a Lionel Messi free-kick led the leaders to a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid.

The gap between the two sides is now eight points, thanks to a gritty display from Messi and company to keep Atletico at bay.

Here’s how each player fared in Barca’s crucial win over Atletico.

BARCELONA

Ter Stegen 6. Had little to do as Barca contained Atletico with comfort, but was composed throughout with excellent distribution to keep things calm at the back.

Roberto 7. Picked his moments to raid forward intelligently, regularly injecting pace into his team’s attacks with quick breaks. Defended excellently against Filipe Luis and contained Griezmann well near the end.

Pique 8. Absolutely commanding in defence despite clearly being troubled by a bandaged knee. Won everything he had to win and started countless attacks with precision passing. Headed narrowly over from a corner.

Umtiti 8. Like Pique, he was outstanding in the heart of defence, standing up to Costa’s physical presence with no problems and rarely looking even troubled. A colossus.

Alba 8. A key feature of Barca’s attacking play, always available as a dangerous outlet on the left and using the ball with ambition but calmness. Also did a very good defensively.

Rakitic 7. Understated but highly effective in midfield, doing the simple things well to help his team control the game. Happy to sacrifice personal glory for the sake of the team, he was positionally disciplined throughout.

Busquets 9. Magisterial in the centre of the field, directing the play like an orchestra conductor and somehow always able to find space in the congested central areas. Also came close to scoring with a thunderous left-footed volley from a corner.

Iniesta 7. Excellent in the opening stages, controlling the midfield and having an early shot deflected wide. But could only complete 35 minutes after suffering a hamstring injury.

Coutinho 7. Started on the right on a front three, before moving onto the left of midfield after Iniesta’s injury. Saw plenty of the ball and forced a couple of first half saves from Oblak after skilful bursts forward. Less involved in the second half but still posed danger.

Messi 8. A slow start but soon burst into life, beating three defenders to shoot low at Oblak before fizzing a brilliant free-kick into the top corner. Well shackled by Atletico for much of the game but always a threat and saw a second half strike deflected over. Booked for a late challenge on Filipe Luis.

Suarez 7. Worked hard to sniff out gaps in Atletico’s defence, always looking to combine with Coutinho. Had a low first half shot blocked, had a second half goal disallowed for offside and curled a late effort wide, and did not stop running all afternoon.

Subs

Gomes 6. Came on for Iniesta, taking Coutinho’s position on the right wing, but soon drew the ire of the home fans with a couple of poor touches. Improved as the game went on but looks low in confidence.

Paulinho 6. Introduced for the latter stages and used his physical presence to help keep his team on top.

ATLETICO MADRID

Oblak 6. Good early save from Coutinho’s deflected cross but had no chance with the opener. Made a handful of routine stops and an excellent reflex save from Busquets’ powerful volley.

Vrsaljko 5. Showed early attacking intent down the right. But he was booked for fouling Suarez and that seemed to subdue him before he was replaced.

Godin 7. Superb positioning allowed him to snuff out several dangerous moments, helping limit Barca to just a sprinkling of clear chances.

Gimenez 7. Used his pace and strength to contain his compatriot Suarez relatively well. The two Uruguayans had a right battle and it was just about honours even.

Luis 5. Unable to exert his usual attacking influence and was replaced for the final 15 minutes.

Saul 6. Subdued in the first half on the right of midfield but was moved into the centre, and his energy played a role in Atletico’s attempted comeback without ever truly shining.

Gabi 5. Had a containing role in the centre of the pitch but was never more than on the fringes of the action before being replaced midway through the second half.

Partey 7. Played the holding position in midfield and did well to serve as his team’s central fulcrum, also sending a long-rage drive just wide, but fouled Messi for the free-kick opener. Moved to right-back in the second half and continued to be solid.

Koke 6. Limited influence on the left of midfield for the opening hour but was then moved into a central role as Atletico chased an equaliser and became more of a factor.

Griezmann 6. Worked hard defensively without much posing attacking threat in the opening period. Moved to the left wing for the final 25 minutes. Fired his only sight of goal well over and couldn’t repeat his outstanding recent form.

Costa 5. Invisible in the first half but gradually grew into the game as Atletico stepped up their intensity and targeted him with long balls, but he will now be hoping to be let out of Umtiti’s pocket.

Subs

Correa 6. Came on after an hour and made an initial impact down the right with his directness, but Alba contained him well.

Gameiro 6. Chased everything in an attempt to add more urgency to Atletico’s attack. Had a late leveller ruled out for offside.

Hernandez 6. Showed glimpses of his class after coming on at left-back for the latter stages.

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Antoine Griezmann gets a 4 and Diego Costa gets a 5 as Atletico Madrid waste their chance in 1-0 loss to Barcelona

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Atletico froze when they had the chance to blow the La Liga race wide open.

Atlético Madrid came into the Camp Nou knowing that as long as they didn’t lose, they’d still be in the La Liga title race.

Instead, they were undone by a trademark moment from Lionel Messi that consigned the visitors to a 1-0 defeat that leaves them trailing Barcelona by eight points. Their high-flying attack was kept at bay during their search for an equaliser.

Here’s how Atletico’s players fared in their loss.

STARTING XI

Jan Oblak 5 – Got a hand to Messi’s free-kick, and he’ll be disappointed not to have saved it. Dealt with everything else thrown at him with usual solidity.

Sime Vrsaljko 6 – Held up well against Barcelona’s attack, although Andres Iniesta’s forced substitution made his life easier.

Jose Gimenez 7 – Kept Luis Suarez in check, with his pace serving to frustrate his fellow Uruguayan.

Diego Godin 7 – Won his duel with compatriot Suarez more often than not, and stood up well against Messi, too. This was a performance that didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.

Felipe Luis 7 – A solid performance at the back, and plenty of running to join Atletico’s attack as they searched for an equaliser.

Saul 6 – The young midfielder will feel he could have done more, especially early in the second half as Atleti charged forward. This was a game that served more as a learning experience than a stage for his talents.

Thomas Partey 5 – His foul that led to Messi’s game-winning free-kick was a blemish on what was otherwise an all-action display in midfield. But for all his energy, he failed to have a telling impact.

Gabi 5 – Was visibly upset when he was taken off, chucking the captain’s armband to the ground, but he knew he didn’t have the legs to keep up with Barcelona.

Koke 5 – Had little impact in midfield, and seemed to almost give up towards the end, when his side still had a chance to level the scores.

Antoine Griezmann 4 – Back down to earth after a spell of seven goals in two games. Rarely got a sniff of goal, and was wasteful on the ball.

Diego Costa 5 – He couldn’t bully or wind up the Barcelona defence, and was caught offside too often – including the one time Atletico had the ball in the net.

SUBS:

Angel Correa 6 – Looked threatening after coming on, adding another dimension to the visitors’ attack. Struggled to link up with Griezmann and Costa, however, although that was more their fault than his.

Kevin Gameiro 6 – Had the ball in the back of the net, and will feel hard done by the fact that Costa had strayed offside in setting him up. Nearly the crowning moment of his Atletico career.

Lucas 5 – The Frenchman added pace and strength to Atletico’s defence as Simeone tried to guard against the Barcelona counter, but also looked shaky at times and nearly gifted Barca a goal.

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