Ronaldo left Los Blancos last summer in a shock transfer to Juventus, ending a nine-year spell in which he and Messi were competing in the same league and establishing their reign over the football world. The duo split the 10 Ballon d’Or awards from 2008 to 2017 before Luka Modric, Ronaldo’s erstwhile team-mate at Madrid, became, last year, the first man not named Ronaldo or Messi to win the award since Kaka in 2008.
The two players have been the centre of debate over the last decade as fans on either side proclaim each one to be the greatest footballer of all time.
There is a chance that this season’s Champions League final will put the two of them against each other, after Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in the second leg of Juventus’ round of 16 tie against Atletico Madrid to lead them back from a 2-0 first leg deficit and into the quarter-finals.
A day later, a vintage Messi performance helped Barcelona brush aside Lyon, and the draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals kept their teams apart, ensuring they can only meet if both teams progress to the May 31 final at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
Though it’s no guarantee, Messi is looking forward to a potential showdown with his rival for club football’s biggest prize.
“I miss Cristiano,” he told FM Club 947 in Argentina. “Although it was a bit difficult to see him win trophies, he gave La Liga prestige.
“Juventus are a great candidate to win the Champions League since the arrival of Cristiano, and the match against Atleti must have given them a lot of confidence.”
Messi was also asked who he thinks are the best players in world football apart from himself, and said that Ronaldo deserves the same exception, before naming team-mate Luis Suarez as one of five players he considers the best of the rest.
“I don’t want to forget anyone, but I think that Neymar, [Kylian] Mbappe, [Eden] Hazard, Luis Suarez and [Sergio] Aguero are the best,” Messi added.
“I didn’t mention Cristiano because I put him aside from the list with me.”
With the international break well behind us, club football returns with some exciting clashes across the top five European leagues.
With less than two months to go before the season concludes, the fight for the title and the European spots is heating up across the continent.
Now that the Champions League is returning for the quarter-finals stage, there’s an extra incentive for the top teams to get the vital points in the league and consolidate their position.
We take a look at the biggest – or most intriguing – fixture from each of the top five leagues.
FIXTURE: Alaves v Atletico Madrid
DATE: Saturday, March 30
TIME: 11:45 PM (GST)
Atletico Madrid are currently 10 points behind league leaders Barcelona and a defeat against Alaves will eliminate any small chance they have of being crowned champions. On the other hand, Alaves will be hopeful of a win that will keep their dreams of a Champions League spot alive and take them a step closer to sealing a Europa League spot at the very least.
Diego Simeone’s men came out as 3-0 winners in the reverse fixture earlier this season and are favourites for all three points as they look to put the 2-0 defeat against Athletic Bilbao and the heartbreak against Juventus behind them.
Alaves are on a six-game unbeaten run and talisman Jony Rodriguez will be hoping to lead them to a result on Saturday. Alvaro Morata – who scored a brace for Spain against Malta in the Euro 2020 qualifiers – will be key for Atletico.
FIXTURE: Liverpool v Tottenham
DATE: Sunday, March 31
TIME: 7:30 PM (GST)
It’s first against third in the Premier League as leaders Liverpool host a struggling Spurs in a crucial fixture. The Reds are two points ahead of Manchester City, but the latter do have a game in hand. A defeat on Sunday for Spurs could push them to fifth position and out of the Champions League places.
Jurgen Klopp’s men managed to edge out the London-based club earlier this season and – going by the form of both teams – start as favourites on Sunday. Spurs are winless in their last four league games and are hence in desperate need to get their season back on track.
Harry Kane needs to deliver for Spurs if they are to get something from this game and Virgil van Dijk will be tasked to ensure that the Englishman is kept at bay.
FIXTURE: Roma v Napoli
VENUE: Stadio Olimpico
DATE: Sunday, March 31
TIME: 5:00 PM (GST)
The Serie A sees yet another top-of-the-table clash as Roma host Napoli in a tie that could do a lot of good or harm to their UCL chances.
Napoli are 15 points behind league leaders Juventus and 13 ahead of fifth-placed Roma. So, one could say that there is not much to play for if you’re in Carlo Ancelotti’s shoes. But the Italian will be looking to finish the season on a high in his first season at the club.
Four points behind fourth-placed AC Milan, Roma have a tough task ahead of them should they fancy their chances of making it to the Champions League next season. Newly-appointed manager Claudio Ranieri faces his biggest test as Giallorossi boss at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.
The team played out a 1-1 draw earlier this season and if we are to get a result this time, Napoli flyer Dries Mertens and Edin Dzeko hold the keys.
FIXTURE: Borussia Dortmund v Wolfsburg
DATE: Saturday, March 30
TIME: 6:30 PM (GST)
A few weeks ago, Borussia Dortmund were on course to break Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga monopoly. However, Lucien Favre’s men collapsed and now find themselves in second position, with Bayern taking the top spot thanks to a superior goal difference.
On Saturday, Dortmund host Wolfsburg in a tie which could prove to be extremely decisive in the title race. Nothing less than a win will work for the hosts, who snatched a last-minute win at Hertha Berlin last time out.
Dortmund will find confidence in the fact that their opponents have not taken three points in any of the last five meetings. However, they must be wary of Wolfsburg, given they barely managed to edge past them in the reverse fixture.
Jadon Sancho and Wout Weghorst are the players most likely to make the back pages should their team come out on top.
FIXTURE: Rennes v Lyon
VENUE: Stade de la Route de Lorient
DATE: Friday, March 29
TIME: 11:45 PM (GST)
Not long ago, Lyon became yet another team to fall victim to Lionel Messi’s magic as Barcelona eliminated the Frenchmen from the Champions League. With high-flying Lille springing a surprise, it’s unlikely Lyon will automatically qualify for the UCL next season. A loss against Rennes would all but confirm third and an entry into the qualifiers.
Rennes were eliminated from the Europa League after they failed to protect their first leg lead against Arsenal and will be looking to end their campaign on a high.
Lyon should fancy their chances, but the fact that they lost 2-0 when the two teams locked horns earlier this season warrants caution.
Hatem Ben Arfa will provide the X-factor for Rennes as Lyon look to ride on Memphis Depay, who had a good international break with the Netherlands.
You may well have seen these snazzy data-driven graphics swirling around social media lately and another intriguing piece has been added to the list.
Looking at the top scorers in 21st century across Europe’s top five football leagues, Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo edges out his eternal rival Lionel Messi with the Portuguese currently on 413 goals and the Argentine four back in second spot.
Another Argentina icon Gabriel Batistuta actually begins the century on top and there are some huge names featuring throughout.
Check out the video above and see if you can pick out any of your favourite players.