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Messi vs. Ronaldo: a goal-scoring comparison

16 April 2012

Do either Messi or Ronaldo excel in scoring important goals?

With Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi both scoring their 41st goals of the season to break the La Liga all-time record, it seems like no better time to reflect on their remarkable records, even if the major honours are yet to be distributed this campaign.

The two men have scored goals relentlessly since Ronaldo’s arrival in Spain for the start of the 2009/10 season; Messi has 106 to his name, Ronaldo one more with 107.

The distribution of their goals has been notably similar too in the past three seasons. Both have scored 35 goals to give their teams the lead in games, while Ronaldo has marginally more goals as equalisers and for two-goal cushions.

The suggestion is that both players are as integral to their teams as each other. Neither player appears to inflate his goal tally on unimportant goals – something we can quantify using Soccer Statistically’s Outcome Probability Calculator.

By calculating a team’s chances of winning and drawing with and without a goal scored, we can get a sense of how many ‘expected points added’ a goal gives a team. For example, with the scores level in the 60th minute, a home team has a 33.7% chance of winning and a 44.7% chance of drawing. Their expected points – the number of points they would typically win from such a scenario – is therefore (0.337 x 3) + (0.447 x 1) = 1.458.

A goal increases the home team’s chances of winning to 81.4%, with a draw now at 15%, and expected points to 2.59, using the same method as above.

Therefore the expect points added (EPA) is 2.59 – 1.458 = 1.134, giving a sense of the ‘weight’ of the goal. Late goals that give a team a lead will clearly have more weight than late goals in a heavy win.

Adding up the total expected points added gives us total weight of goals from Barcelona and Real Madrid players in the last three seasons.

Despite a near-identical goal tally, Ronaldo’s EPA is marginally higher than Messi, which suggests he scores more important goals than the Argentinean on average. Above all though, the graph highlights the staggering contribution in goals from the two players.

To understand the average importance of each goal, we divide the EPA over goals to give the average goal weight (AGW).

Of the two clubs’ more prolific goal-scorers, Messi and Ronaldo lie near the bottom of the list; but there are reasons for this. The AGW metric penalises unimportant goals, bringing down a player’s average even if most of his goals add considerable expected points. Clearly Messi and Ronaldo fall into this bracket of players.

Central Winger shows that the average goal weight of different clubs may vary, which affects the AGW of players within that team. A team low on goals will, on average, score more important goals than a team who scores frequently. However, over the last three seasons Barcelona and Real Madrid’s AGW have been fairly similar, averaging around 0.52.

Players with a high AGW can be considered ‘clutch’ goal-scorers. Seydou Keita’s 10 league goals have come at an average weight of 0.73, well above both clubs’ average. However, this difference is insignificant.

It’s reasonable to expect players who score significantly more important goals (i.e. players who have high AGWs) to regress to the mean over time; it seems unrealistic for players to consistently score game-changing goals, particularly in teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid where scoring chances are abundant.

Yet over three seasons, Xavi has shown a surprising knack of scoring and creating big chances when it counts. By calculating the expected points added from both goals and assists, Xavi’s average contribution weight (ACW) is 0.67:

Although lower than Keita’s average goal weight, Xavi’s 42 goals and assists have been so consistently important that his average contribution weight is significantly higher than the average of all other players in the two teams. Is Xavi a clutch contributor? Perhaps. It may also be a result of him being subbed off after the ‘hard work’ is done, thereby denying him of the opportunity to deflate his average weight with unimportant contributions.

Ronaldo and Messi float around the average in this respect, and although Ronaldo’s AGW and ACW are greater than Messi’s, the difference is not large enough to suggest the Portuguese systematically scores more important goals. A full illustration of their importance can be found here, which shows that their EPA from goals and assists far exceeds their teammates’.

Their goal-scoring contribution is as prominent this season, with over 40% of both teams’ goals and total EPA. Again, Ronaldo appears to have scored more important goals – his EPA is higher despite identical goal tallies – but this difference is insignificant.

Of players with at least 3 league goals this season, only Fabregas and Sergio Ramos have higher average goal weights than Ronaldo. This is indicated by the chart above; both players have higher EPAs than their goal tally would suggest.

One of the key combinations this season has been Ronaldo and di Maria. The Argentinean has set up 6 goals for Ronaldo this season, with an EPA only bettered by Ronaldo’s total from the penalty spot. On the following charts, the first name denotes the scorer, the second name the assist-maker.

The chart above also highlights Ozil’s important assists for Ronaldo this season – three in total have added over three points in expectation. Messi’s big value added contributions have come when going solo; his three most prolific EPA combinations this season are unassisted goals, goals from penalties and goals from free kicks. Dani Alves may have assisted more Messi goals than anyone else, but largely these goals have not been important, indicated by a relatively low EPA.

Over the course of three seasons, similar patterns are repeated.

Curiously, Messi has only benefited from a Xavi assist five times in this period, all during the 2009/10 season. When they did combine however, it tended to be in big moments, with an average goal weight of 0.81.

Largely though, there are no major differences between the goal-scoring habits of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Any differences in goal or contribution weights are statistically insignificant*. Both players score the proportion of important and unimportant goals that you’d expect – an inevitability rather than a criticism. Instead, it’s the sheer quantity of their contributions that is extraordinary.

EPAs calculated using Soccer Statistically’s Outcome Probability Calculator.

Assist data collected from football-lineups.com, and may not identically match alternative assist definitions.

More expected goal added posts are available on the Power of Goals blog by Mark Taylor, who kindly provided some guidance on interpreting EPA values.

*This was added on 18/04/12 to clear up any confusion.

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38 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 April 2012 9:52 am

    Great post,Omar.
    Love the graphs.

  2. parth permalink
    17 April 2012 1:45 pm

    great work done
    graph exceptional

  3. Sholola tunde permalink
    4 September 2012 7:33 am

    Ronaldo is the ever best player

    • 15 September 2012 9:14 pm

      yeah, you can see that by all the ballon d’ors ronaldo wins. oh wait, he has 1 and messi will have 4 soon

      30 Records by Messi the Legend

      RECORD #1 – With 73 goals for Barca Messi set a new world record, surpassing Archie Stark (1924-25 Bethlehem Steel, USA)
      RECORD #2 – Messi became the first player to score 50 goals in a single season in La Liga, breaking CR’s record of 40 goals.
      RECORD #3 – Messi (currently on 253 goals) became Barcelona’s all-time topscorer, breaking Césars record of 232 goals.
      RECORD #4 – Messi is the first player ever in the history of the Liga to score 8 hat-tricks in a single Liga season
      RECORD #5 – Messi is the first player to be crowned top goalscorer in the Champions League for 4 consecutive seasons
      RECORD #6 – Messi has played more matches this season (currently 59) than in any of his previous seasons with Barcelona.
      RECORD #7 – Messi registered 29 assists for Barcelona in all competitions this season, a new personal record
      RECORD #8 – Messi became the first player to have scored and assisted in 6 different official competitions in a calendar year
      RECORD #9 – Messi became the 2nd Barca player (after Pedro) to score in 6 different official competitions in a single season
      RECORD #10 – Messi scored 5 goals in the CL-match against Bayer Leverkusen (7-1), most goals by any player in a CL-match
      RECORD #11 – Messi produced 35 goals in home games this Liga season, more than any other player in La Liga’s history
      RECORD #12 – Messi produced 14 hat-tricks in La Liga in his Barca career, breaking the club record held by Cesar (13)
      RECORD #13 – Messi became to first player ever to reach 100 points in the race of the European Golden Shoe (50×2)
      RECORD #14 – With 214 games Messi is Barca’s most experienced foreigner in La Liga history, beating record of Cocu (205)
      RECORD #15 – Messi (24) became the youngest player ever to pass the 50-goal mark in the Champions League
      RECORD #16 – Messi became record scorer in the CL knockout stage with 26 goals. Previous record: 18 goals (Raúl/Shevchenko)
      RECORD #17 – Messi scored his 2nd and 3rd CL-hattrick for Barca this season, equaling the record held by Filippo Inzaghi
      RECORD #18 – Messi became the 2nd Barcelona player (after Quini) to win the Pichichi trophy for topscorer in La Liga twice
      RECORD #19 – Messi became all-time topscorer in the Supercopa with 8 goals, surpassing the record of Raúl (7 goals)
      RECORD #20 – Messi converted 10 penalties this Liga season, equal to the club record held by Ronald Koeman (1989-90)
      RECORD #21 – Messi scored in 10 consecutive Liga games this season, equalling the club record of Martín (42/43) & Ronaldo (96/97)
      RECORD #22 – Messi is the 2nd player (after H.Sánchez) in Spanish football to score 35+ goals in all comps for 4 seasons in a row
      RECORD #23 – Messi scored in 6 consecutive home games (twice) this season, a new personal record. Previous record was 5.
      RECORD #24 – Messi has equalled Samuel Eto’o’s (2007-08) record of scoring in 7 consecutive away Liga games this season.
      RECORD #25 – Messi registered the fastest hat-trick in Barca’s Liga history in the game vs Mallorca (5-0) this season (17 minutes)
      RECORD #26 – Messi became the 4th player in CL history (after Litmanen, Crespo & Henry) to score in 7 consecutive away games
      RECORD #27 – Messi became the first player in CL history to score 14 goals in a single season (main tournament)
      RECORD #28 – Messi (24 years old) became the youngest player ever to reach 150 goals in La Liga
      RECORD #29 – Messi became the 4th player to win 3 Ballons d’Or, after Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten.
      RECORD #30 – Messi became the 2nd player to win 3 consecutive Ballons d’Or, after Michel Platini.

      RECORD #1 – With 73 goals for Barca Messi set a new world record, surpassing Archie Stark (1924-25 Bethlehem Steel, USA)
      RECORD #2 – Messi became the first player to score 50 goals in a single season in La Liga, breaking CR’s record of 40 goals.
      RECORD #3 – Messi (currently on 253 goals) became Barcelona’s all-time topscorer, breaking Césars record of 232 goals.
      RECORD #4 – Messi is the first player ever in the history of the Liga to score 8 hat-tricks in a single Liga season
      RECORD #5 – Messi is the first player to be crowned top goalscorer in the Champions League for 4 consecutive seasons
      RECORD #6 – Messi has played more matches this season (currently 59) than in any of his previous seasons with Barcelona.
      RECORD #7 – Messi registered 29 assists for Barcelona in all competitions this season, a new personal record
      RECORD #8 – Messi became the first player to have scored and assisted in 6 different official competitions in a calendar year
      RECORD #9 – Messi became the 2nd Barca player (after Pedro) to score in 6 different official competitions in a single season
      RECORD #10 – Messi scored 5 goals in the CL-match against Bayer Leverkusen (7-1), most goals by any player in a CL-match
      RECORD #11 – Messi produced 35 goals in home games this Liga season, more than any other player in La Liga’s history
      RECORD #12 – Messi produced 14 hat-tricks in La Liga in his Barca career, breaking the club record held by Cesar (13)
      RECORD #13 – Messi became to first player ever to reach 100 points in the race of the European Golden Shoe (50×2)
      RECORD #14 – With 214 games Messi is Barca’s most experienced foreigner in La Liga history, beating record of Cocu (205)
      RECORD #15 – Messi (24) became the youngest player ever to pass the 50-goal mark in the Champions League
      RECORD #16 – Messi became record scorer in the CL knockout stage with 26 goals. Previous record: 18 goals (Raúl/Shevchenko)
      RECORD #17 – Messi scored his 2nd and 3rd CL-hattrick for Barca this season, equaling the record held by Filippo Inzaghi
      RECORD #18 – Messi became the 2nd Barcelona player (after Quini) to win the Pichichi trophy for topscorer in La Liga twice
      RECORD #19 – Messi became all-time topscorer in the Supercopa with 8 goals, surpassing the record of Raúl (7 goals)
      RECORD #20 – Messi converted 10 penalties this Liga season, equal to the club record held by Ronald Koeman (1989-90)
      RECORD #21 – Messi scored in 10 consecutive Liga games this season, equalling the club record of Martín (42/43) & Ronaldo (96/97)
      RECORD #22 – Messi is the 2nd player (after H.Sánchez) in Spanish football to score 35+ goals in all comps for 4 seasons in a row
      RECORD #23 – Messi scored in 6 consecutive home games (twice) this season, a new personal record. Previous record was 5.
      RECORD #24 – Messi has equalled Samuel Eto’o’s (2007-08) record of scoring in 7 consecutive away Liga games this season.
      RECORD #25 – Messi registered the fastest hat-trick in Barca’s Liga history in the game vs Mallorca (5-0) this season (17 minutes)
      RECORD #26 – Messi became the 4th player in CL history (after Litmanen, Crespo & Henry) to score in 7 consecutive away games
      RECORD #27 – Messi became the first player in CL history to score 14 goals in a single season (main tournament)
      RECORD #28 – Messi (24 years old) became the youngest player ever to reach 150 goals in La Liga
      RECORD #29 – Messi became the 4th player to win 3 Ballons d’Or, after Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten.
      RECORD #30 – Messi became the 2nd player to win 3 consecutive Ballons d’Or, after Michel Platini.

      • PUNK permalink
        19 September 2012 10:26 am

        u are crazy for saying such a thing cos messi is the GOD OF SOCCER

      • Der Bomber permalink
        12 November 2012 3:03 pm

        RECORD #31 – Messi helped Barcelona win the league.

        Oh wait, that didn’t happen. Mainly cause Cristiano Ronaldo scored goals when they actually mattered, and not by scoring 9 goals in the last 4 games of the season. As in, scoring the winning goal in the Madrid-Barca title decider.

    • Abdul Majid permalink
      19 September 2013 6:16 am

      Messi is d best forever…..

  4. 9 September 2012 8:09 am

    The best player in the world is ronaldo

    • aaron johnson permalink
      15 September 2012 9:12 pm

      yeah, you can see that by all the ballon d’ors ronaldo wins. oh wait, he has 1 and messi will have 4 soon

      • 5 December 2012 1:10 pm

        Messi should’t had won 2 Ballon d’ors : one should have gone to sneijder in 2010 and one should have gone to iniesta in 2011 -___-

      • mems permalink
        15 January 2013 10:01 pm

        AARON JOHNSON………..HOW TRUE AND HE DID AGREE WITH U ALL THE WAY

    • mems permalink
      15 January 2013 9:57 pm

      yeah relies alot on penalties to pick up his goal average…….messi plays for his u go messi

  5. Sheamus permalink
    8 November 2012 4:29 am

    Ronaldo is the best football player, no comparision against messi..

    • aaron permalink
      8 November 2012 10:30 am

      yes, cr7 is better if you like bling over actual substance. notice how all the great players and managers always compare other players to messi but never to cr7? cr7 doesn’t even know how to spell the word defence

  6. babalola abdulahi permalink
    12 November 2012 2:24 pm

    Both player are the two best for now; ronaldo score goal, but messi crate goal score goal

    • mems permalink
      15 January 2013 9:51 pm

      yes messi creates n scores……….ronaldo relies on penalties……..that increases his goal scoring messi worlds best

  7. godfredeus maige permalink
    21 November 2012 12:02 pm

    all in all messi still the best

  8. stiffler70 permalink
    22 November 2012 4:02 pm

    1 record messi doesnt have…

    Ronaldo – ONLY player in the history of La Liga to score in 6 consecutive “el Classico” matches.

    That goes to all the haters who say he doesnt score in important matches…

    • Saud Shahid permalink
      23 November 2012 3:38 pm

      Messi has 17 goals in El Classicos. Second Best, just one goal behind Di Stefano.
      Messi has more assists than anyone in El Classico history.

      You were saying?

      • 5 December 2012 1:08 pm

        Messi played for barcelona when he was a kid and ronaldo just joined real madrid since 2009 while messi was already playing clasico’s x_x

    • ASAF permalink
      27 November 2012 6:39 am

      messi is the best and also on the international level. he has 31 in 75 apps as against 37 in 100 which means 41% scoring for messi against 37% for ronaldofor ronaldo, and remember he has got it going big time in the last year so more of the same to come. also at the club level he scores as well assists, so much so that he has more assists than xavi and iniesta put together who many say are the reason why messi scores so many goals. lets face it, this guy is a one man show

      • 5 December 2012 1:07 pm

        Messi has : Higuain, Di Maria, Tevez, Aguero at the national team and who does ronaldo have at portugal….

      • aaron permalink
        5 December 2012 6:22 pm

        well said my friend. this is actually a moot argument and the scary thing is messi hasn’t even hit his peak. (27-30) and he already virtually owns the record book. in the future people will revere him like people today revere pele or maradona

  9. 5 December 2012 1:58 am

    Messi is the best on the international level forever. .

    • 5 December 2012 1:13 pm

      how many world cups or any big prize did messi win with argentina??

      • aaron permalink
        5 December 2012 6:19 pm

        under 21 world cup and olympic gold. now tell me what penaldo has won with portugal???? i’m waiting, tell me!!!! NADA, NOTHING!!!!!

  10. 20 February 2013 5:13 am

    Hello, Neat post. There’s an issue along with your website in web explorer, would test this? IE nonetheless is the marketplace leader and a big part of other people will pass over your great writing because of this problem.

  11. Nate permalink
    28 April 2013 4:19 am

    Messi has played in more clasicos than Ronaldo. He has been playing in the la liga since 2004 and ronaldo came in at 2009 so The fact that Ronaldo has 12 goals vs Barcelona compared to messi’s 18 vs Madrid makes his tally better. You were saying ?

  12. 10 September 2013 3:26 am

    モンクレール ジャケット

  13. 16 September 2013 6:52 pm

    Messi is better than Ronaldo but Ronaldo is better

  14. Abdul Majid permalink
    19 September 2013 6:23 am

    ronaldo is nothing to messi.Obviously messi is d greatest in present world-football

  15. 19 November 2013 3:09 pm

    if am not mistaking football is all about entertiament and cr7 remain undisputed when u come into football he did not have mate despit given the aword to mercy he remain the best

  16. 21 September 2014 12:08 am

    When I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now
    every time a comment is added I recieve four emails
    with the same comment. Is there a wayy you are able
    to remove me from that service? Thanks!

Trackbacks

  1. Messi vs. Ronaldo: a goal-scoring comparison | TheInsiders
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