Two's company and three's a crowd - well not anymore, and if anyone has a problem with that they can take it up with Luis Suarez. I am sure he would be more than happy to reinforce my point: Suarez is on the same level as Messi and Ronaldo.
For so long the duo have been heralded as the two best players in the world by a distance; so much so no one else has been able to get a look-in. The Ballon D'or has essentially been contested between the two forwards since 2008; the Classico which used to be an amalgamation of several stars is now commonly referred to as: Messi vs Ronaldo. In fact, so dominant and publicized is their rivalry, the duo even have a website dedicated to settling the biggest debate in world football: who is better? Messi or Ronaldo?
Although I am at extreme loggerheads with the 'far better than everyone else' status the duo receive, (let us not underestimate the effect Xavi and Iniesta have on Messi, or the fact Ronaldo ceases to be superhuman once Madrid reach the semi-finals of the Champions League) they do possess the most match-winning capabilities alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and unlike the Swede, Messi and Ronaldo wield their match-winning capabilities with such a frightening consistency, only long retired legends such as: Eusebio, Just Fontaine, Gerd Muller, Pele, Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano can rival it.
Just to put Messi and Ronaldo's conquests into perspective:
"Before Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2007/08 season (where he scored 42 goals in all competitions), it was extremely rare for a footballer to score over 40 goals in a season. The most Thierry Henry achieved was 39 in the 2003/04 season, his next best was 33 in the 2005/06 season. The most Ronaldo (Brazil Ronaldo, R9, The Real Ronaldo, El Fenomeno, Fat Ronaldo or whatever synonym you can come up with) scored was 47 in the 1996/97 season for Barcelona, his next best was 35 for PSV in the 1994-95 season."
"Other legendary strikers of previous eras found it equally as tough to break the 40 goal barrier: Shevchenko's best was 34 in the 2000/01 season with Milan, Alan Shearer managed 37 twice with Blackburn, Rivaldo 36 in 2000/01 for Barcelona, Raul 32 in the 2000/01 season for Real Madrid, Romario banged in 32 in the 1993/94 season for Barcelona, Elber 31 in the 2002/03 season for Bayern Munich, Robbie Fowler 36 in 1995-96 for Liverpool, Roy Makaay 39 in 2002/03 for Deportivo La Coruna, Trezeguet 32 in 2001/02 for Juventus, Del Piero 32 in 1996/97 for Juventus, Totti 32 in 2006/07 for Roma, Roberto Baggio 30 in 1992/93 for Juventus and Filippo Inzaghi 30 in 2002/03 for Milan."
"Surprisingly, Gabriel Batistuta (nicknamed Batigol for his scoring prowess), George Weah, Hernan Crespo, Christian Vieri, Patrick Kluivert, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Michael Owen never managed over 30. Beside Ronaldo, the only striker of yesteryear who scored over 40 was Ruud Van Nistelrooy with 44 in 2002/03 for Manchester United."
"Of course since the 2007/08 season both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have completely obliterated the once unfathomable tally of 40 goals. Since hitting his stride in 2007/08 Cristiano Ronaldo has scored over 40 four times: 42 in 07/08, 53 in 10/11, 60 in 11/12, 55 in 12/13. It must also be noted that although he scored 33 in 09/10, it would have been over 40 were it not for injuries."
"Messi took a bit longer than Cristiano Ronaldo to hit his stride due to injuries in his earlier career (which seem to be creeping in again) but has arguably become the better of the two. In 08/09 he hit 38, 47 in 09/10, 53 in 10/11, 73 in 11/12 and 60 in 12/13."
*Quote taken from Scoop on the City
Now that Suarez is settled it is no surprise he is reaching the very limit of his potential. Currently, Suarez has 19 goals in 13 games, a record that sits proudly alongside any of Messi's and Ronaldo's and one which sets him aside from the chasing pack. Furthermore, it is not as if all his goals are coming from one method only, just like Messi and Ronaldo, Suarez is capable of conjuring up the sublime from absolutely nothing.
All three have in their locker: the ability to lose their marker and score a tap in, the ability to let loose from 30+ yards, the ability to dribble past several players before coolly slotting the ball into the net, the ability to score set-pieces (though Suarez's resolve from a penalty has yet to be tested) and the ability to thump in a header (although due to Messi's height, this is something we rarely see).
Yet, despite all of Suarez's goal-scoring abilities matching, if not exceeding some of Messi's and Ronaldo's, there are a few dissenters who fervently disregard any challenger to Messi and Ronaldo. Nonetheless, when you look at how central Suarez is to Liverpool, a team with all due respect is inferior to Barcelona and Real Madrid, it only becomes more apparent his name belongs with Messi and Ronaldo.
- Liverpool would have drawn against Sunderland
- lost to Newcastle
- drawn with West Brom
- lost to Everton
- lost to Norwich
- lost to Cardiff
Of course I am not for one second suggesting the matches would have happened as suggested in the Suarez-less scenario, especially considering Sturridge had twice put it on a table for Suarez against Sunderland - though whether another player would have been intelligent enough to make those runs is worth considering. Nevertheless, the table does show Suarez has performed herculean tasks at times, tasks no one in the Liverpool squad is capable of replicating. This was most obvious against: West Brom, Norwich and Cardiff, which all featured wonder goals.
Conversely, some may argue someone always steps up, indeed in the earlier part of the season that was Sturridge. However, whilst Suarez is capable of increasing the performances of others around him, Sturridge is very much incapable of doing that at this moment. Liverpool's record without Suarez reads: played five, won three, drawn one, lost one. Though in many of the matches they avoided a loss, they walked the proverbial tightrope. They could have easily drawn against Stoke had Minoglet failed to make a save; the only clear chance they fathomed against Aston Villa was Sturridge's mazy run which ended as a goal; Sturridge again had a Man United defence to thank as they fell asleep during Liverpool's corner and had Shelvey not been so hell-bent on lending his former team a helping hand, Liverpool could have easily lost 2-0. Suarez's inclusion ensures Liverpool are nailed on to win in matches and consequentially takes them to a higher level.
The same cannot be said of Lionel Messi, however. For the longest of time, I have held the suspicion that Messi and particularly Ronaldo are flat-track bullies. Not to say they do not score against big teams, to suggest that would be ludicrous, but rather they do not turn it on enough when their team needs them to justify the superman accolades they get banded with.
- Valencia where they would have lost without Messi
- against Sevilla where they would have drawn
- and twice against A.C. Milan where they would have lost and drawn
To leap to Messi's defence, he has not been the same since the injury sustained against PSG last season. Yet, would have an on-form Messi honestly have done anymore in the above fixtures? You can almost bet your house on him scoring more in the matches Barcelona won in. But what about against Atletico Madrid, Osasuna and the first A.C. Milan tie?
According to Transfermarkt, Messi has an enviable record against Atletico Madrid scoring 20 goals in 18 appearances. However, under manager Diego Simeone, Atletico are the most improved team in European football. Defensively they are extremely compact and as such Messi has not scored in his last three appearances against them. In the game he played 90 minutes, he completed 7 dribbles so one can only assume he was in good condition (screenshot two). Though despite this, he only got away two shots - one of them a missed penalty. Furthermore, Atletico Madrid restricted Barcelona to the same number of shots they had - eight. In fact, Atletico had more shots on target - 4, whereas Barcelona only had the one (screenshot three). It is hard to say, but considering against similar teams like Chelsea and Inter Milan Messi has struggled, it is doubtful he would have scored.
Similarly, against A.C. Milan and Osasuna, Messi has favourable records. Given the relative weaknesses of both teams it is more than likely a fully firing Messi would have made more of an impression. However, this falls straight into my argument: Messi is a bully. His scoring record whilst unfathomable is down to Barcelona's overall dominance. When asked to show he is truly superhuman by performing when the team are not, too many times often than not, he disappears with his team.
How does this relate to Suarez? Simple. If Messi was that above and beyond everyone, Barcelona would be unconquerable. In a few matches they have played without the forward, they have shown they can perform adequately. Without a doubt Messi was missed against Athletico Bilbao as the forwards put in a flat performance. But against Celtic? Neymar put in a Messi esque performance. Against Getafe? Step up Pedro and Fabregas.
In case I am not making myself clear, of course Messi improves Barcelona, only a fool would not see that. Games against Arsenal, PSG and several bouts with Real Madrid are proof of this. If Barcelona are to win the Champions League this year, they will need Messi leading them. However, without him they are still a strong team.
Now that Messi has been debunked, I believe if Suarez were to switch clubs with Messi, they would both come out with similar results to what they are achieving at their current clubs.
This argument also holds up with Ronaldo:
- drawn against Granada
- lost to Villarreal
- lost to Elche
- drawn with Levante
- lost to Juventus
- lost to Rayo Vallecano
- lost against Juventus
- drawn with Real Sociedad
- lost to Osasuna
- drawn with Valenica
On paper it does seem Ronaldo has a far greater effect on Madrid than Messi has on Barcelona. Furthermore, on paper it would seem Ronaldo transforms Madrid into a world class outfit, whereas Suarez transforms Liverpool merely into a very good domestic side.
However, when you take into account the obscene amount of shots Ronaldo needs to score from and the percentage of shots in takes in comparison with Madrid as a whole, it appears unlike Messi at Barcelona and Suarez at Liverpool, Ronaldo has a team that is subservient towards his desires.
The next player to tally the highest shots per game is Bale with 3.1, a full 4.6 behind Ronaldo. After Bale, Benzema tallies 2.6 shots per game.
Quite clearly, Ronaldo has the monopoly on shots, but why? Is it because Madrid are so inept Ronaldo has to consistently test the goalkeeper to give them a fighting chance in matches? Or is it because Madrid are geared towards supporting Ronaldo?
It is the latter. Isco, Angel Di Maria, Marcelo, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric all have higher key pass rates than Ronaldo and this shows in the type of goals Ronaldo scores. A website dedicated to showcasing Ronaldo's goals to the world reveals 19 of Ronaldo's 27 goals this season have been heavily assisted - meaning it was either: a cross followed by a Ronaldo header; a cross or through ball followed by a Ronaldo tap-in; or a penalty. Di Maria and Benzema feature heavily in this and it is no surprise they have the highest assists for a Madrid player this season.
Anyone reading this who still doubts my methods of judging Messi and Ronaldo will probably be now saying: "Ronaldo's goals are irreplaceable", or something to that effect. Well, remember when I stated Bale has the next best shots per game? Bale has traits eerily similar to Ronaldo and when Ronaldo was injured for two matches, Bales scored in both matches (Galatasary and Valladolid). In fact, against Valladolid, Bale put in a performance Ronaldo would have been proud of. Bale scored a hat trick from seven shots and his overall performance was similar to a typical Ronaldo game.
For this reason, now that Suarez has exponentially improved his consistency - not his overall talents, he can now be considered as good as Messi and Ronaldo.
For anyone who still harbours doubts; take Messi, Ronaldo and Suarez outside their current clubs for moment and judge them on their international record; it is Suarez who comes out on top:
*Picture taken from Soccer without Limits