Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Who has scored the most match-winning goals at club level?

  • Kobe Tong

Cristiano Ronaldo was up to his usual tricks in the Champions League on Wednesday night.

The Manchester United striker has made such a habit of popping up with winning goals that there was an unerring inevitability when he headed home the game-changing strike against Atalanta.

The Red Devils had found themselves trailing 2-0 having conceded goals to Mario Pašalić and Merih Demiral, but return fire from Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire had given the hosts hope.

Ronaldo saves the day again

And hope is all you need when Ronaldo is leading your line because approximately no one was surprised when the Portuguese superstar converted Luke Shaw’s cross to save the day.

Nevertheless, the sheer certainty of the situation didn’t make it any less dramatic with Ronaldo putting the ‘Dreams’ in ‘Theatre of Dreams’ as 75,000 United fans jumped about in celebration.

As such, no matter where you rank Ronaldo in your own personal GOAT debate, you’d be hard pressed to argue that any player has come close to matching him when it comes to big moments.

Man Utd vs Atalanta Match Reaction (Football Terrace)

Ronaldo’s penchant for dramatic goals

Whether it’s pressure penalties, last-minute winners or sealing comebacks, Ronaldo is widely labelled as ‘inevitable’ for having the strongest claim to the throne of football’s biggest clutch player.

However, that’s all well and good, but does Ronaldo deserve all these titles when you look at the statistics themselves or has the narrative surrounding him simply bloated all the praise?

It’s an interesting thought, right? So, using the filter tool on Transfermarkt for ‘just game winning goals’, we decided to see how Ronaldo’s tally of match-winning strikes compared to other top strikers.

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Top strikers by game-winning goals

Now, it’s important to note that the shallower depths of data in older eras means that we’re focusing on modern times alone and only game-winning goals from club football are being included.

Nevertheless, to give Ronaldo the stiffest opposition possible, we’ve taken some of the most prolific strikers of the 21st century to see if they can outdo the United star for match-winning finishes.

The result? Well, a pretty convincing victory for Ronaldo, so be sure to check out just how much he humiliated his rivals by comparing his statistics to 12 other top-level centre forwards down below:

13. Harry Kane – 67 game-winning goals

12. Edinson Cavani – 93

11. Didier Drogba – 94

10. Sergio Aguero – 101


=8. Karim Benzema – 104

=8. Wayne Rooney – 104

=6. Luis Suarez – 115

=6. Thierry Henry – 115

5. Robert Lewandowski – 122


4. Samuel Eto’o – 123

3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – 155

2. Lionel Messi – 182

1. Cristiano Ronaldo – 212


Ronaldo streets ahead of everyone

Well then. It’s fair to say that Ronaldo really is in a league of his own.

Despite the fact that Ronaldo and Messi are pretty much level for open play goals in their career, it’s fascinating that the former has a 30-goal lead when it comes to strikes on which a victory hinged.

Now, of course, it’s worth noting that not all of these strikes are necessarily last-minute winners and in some cases could have been scored in the opening 10 minutes of a 1-0 triumph.


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However, when the gaps between Ronaldo and the other world-class strikers of the modern era are quite as big as they are, it’s fair to say that the 36-year-old deserves all the compliments that he gets.

Regardless of whether or not you think he’s the greatest player in history, surely you wouldn’t pick anybody else to score you a goal if your life depended upon winning a game. He is, after all, inevitable.



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