European giants collide in the Champions League this week as holders Real Madrid take on Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16.
However, for many it is being viewed more as a boxing match, with Cristiano Ronaldo looking to defend his title as the world’s best player against Ballon d’Or winner-in-waiting Neymar.
But is it fair to assume this meeting will see a diminishing Ronaldo face an ever-improving Neymar? We take a look at the duo’s stats heading into this tantalising encounter.
Rampant Ronaldo slowing down?
Ronaldo’s rate of scoring has been nothing short of outstanding since he joined Real in 2009, but there are signs that this prolificacy is on the decline.
With 11 La Liga goals in 2017-18, the man who turned 33 earlier this month has 17 league games left to prevent his goalscoring return from falling for a fourth straight season.
Admittedly, he set the bar staggeringly high when scoring 48 times in 2014-15, but that dropped to 35 the following season, and 25 in 2016-17.
Those most recent efforts were combined with 12 Champions League goals to deliver Real their first league and European Cup double since the 1950s, but in this current campaign, they are in danger of relinquishing both trophies without putting up a proper fight.
And while the faults of a team should not fall on one player, it’s difficult not to attribute Ronaldo’s struggles in the league to Real’s failings as a whole.
2017/18 league stats in front of goal
- Cristiano Ronaldo – 18 games, 122 shots, 11 goals – One goal every 145 minutes
- Neymar – 18 games, 82 shots, 18 goals – One goal every 90 minutes
Only Lionel Messi (132) has had more shots than Ronaldo (122) in the league, but the former has delivered 20 goals to the latter’s 11.
In the league, Ronaldo is scoring at a rate of one goal every 145 minutes, and though he is striving to turn his own misfortunes around – having scored two doubles in January and a hat-trick against Real Sociedad – Neymar is thriving in Ligue 1 following his world-record summer move to PSG.
From out of Messi’s shadow and into the Parisian spotlight, Neymar has flourished in his role as talisman, scoring 18 times (from just 82 shots) at a rate of one goal every 90 minutes.
Goals and assists in Europe’s top five leagues
- 1. Lionel Messi – 20 goals, 10 assists
- 2. Neymar – 18 goals, 11 assists
- 3. Mohamed Salah – 22 goals, 7 assists
- 4. Ciro Immobile – 20 goals, 8 assists
- 5. Edinson Cavani – 21 goals, 4 assists
- Cristiano Ronaldo – 11 goals, 4 assists
He has also provided a further 11 assists, with five of those for Edinson Cavani, who has three more goals than the Brazilian. It appears the earlier echoes of disharmony at the club have diminished, especially with Champions League glory firmly on their minds.
Pain in Spain, joy in Europe
Neymar and Cavani have been equally as impressive in Europe, scoring six goals apiece for PSG - who broke a group-stage record by netting 25 times - but the PSG duo remain three goals behind Ronaldo.
For all of Ronaldo’s domestic struggles, the Portugal captain has been firing on all cylinders in the Champions League.
Ronaldo v Neymar in Champions League 2017-18
- Ronaldo – 540 minutes played, 9 goals, 40 shots, 21 on target, 1 assist
- Neymar – 540 minutes played, 6 goals, 22 shots, 13 on target, 3 assists
Nine goals may not have helped Real finish above Tottenham in Group H, but a goal every 60 minutes tells a completely different story to that of his league record, while a shot conversion of 20 per cent is a considerable improvement on his three per cent rate in Spain.
Ronaldo was born to play on the grandest of stages, and the Champions League offers him just that – global recognition for what he does best.
It also allows him a reprieve from the immense pressure he faces domestically, both from the media and the Bernabeu faithful – five away goals to four at home in this season’s competition justifies that belief, while Real’s path to glory in 2017 also outlined how he thrives when the big boys are in town.
Ronaldo followed up a quarter-final double at Bayern Munich with a hat-trick in last year’s return leg, going on to score another treble in the 3-0 semi-final win over Atletico Madrid.
A double in the final against Juventus not only reiterated his love affair with the Champions League, but proved his unrelenting desire to remain the best.
And looking ahead to the two-legged affair with PSG, no player will be more intent on silencing Neymar and PSG than Ronaldo, particularly when such an occasion allows him to shut the critics up too.
Of all the stars on show in this tie, it would be typical of Ronaldo to outshine them all.
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