I haven’t posted on the Pichichi Race in a while, preferring to rely upon the updates on our Pichichi Race page to tell the story. With Lionel Messi scoring a hat trick and Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a brace to keep the race even, I thought this was a good week to take a deeper look at the race and compare it to the 2009-2010 season.
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Leo Messi had been stuck one goal behind Cristiano Ronaldo in the Pichichi race since Week 11. Since then every brace or hattrick has been matched by his Madrid counterpart. This week, Real Madrid kicked off first. With Ronaldo scoring off a beautiful freekick, Messi had to get at least one to keep pace. Messi opened the first half with a beautiful 1-2-1-2-1-2 (that’s 3 give and go’s in a row) with Dani Alves before slotting home. He then went on to score one of the more ridiculous goals of the season to equal Ronaldo for the Pichichi. Why ridiculous? He dribbled past 5 defenders in the box by doing nothing more than dribbling in a straight line. No stepovers, no feints, no swivelling of the hips like a Turkish stripper, just pure dribbling.
In the corresponding fixtures last year, neither Messi nor Ronaldo played. Messi has 10 more goals at this point in the season versus last, Ronaldo 11. With so much emphasis on player fatigue after the World Cup, it makes the performance of these two all the more impressive.
When I did the first post on the Pichichi race, I wasn’t intending for it to be a recurring theme. However, I think this year we are witnessing something special that warrants extra attention. During this week’s Barca match, the commentators were saying that Messi averages a goal a game under Pep Guardiola. Scoring a goal a game is impressive under short spells during the season, but to do it consistently for two and a half seasons is a whole other level.
Messi and Ronaldo are both averaging more than a goal a game this season. After their matching hattricks before El Clasico, they followed it up with matching braces after El Clasico. Their goal scoring pace may seem unsustainable, but Messi had a higher goals per game average for the second part of the 2009-10 season than he has for the start of the 2010-11 season. If he could match that pace, he’d be on target to score 42 goals this season and still possibly lose the Pichichi to Ronaldo.
|Pichichi race between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 and 2010. They’re off to a better start this season, but can they keep it up?|
To put their awesome numbers into perspective, Messi and Ronaldo have scored 50% more goals than their EPL counterparts in fewer matches (Berbatov – 11, Tevez – 10).
While it doesn’t count towards the Pichichi, I think it’s worthwhile to look at assists as well. Messi’s pass to David Villa for Barca’s fourth goal was a thing of absolute beauty. While Messi was kept off the scoresheet in El Classico, he certainly didn’t have a quiet game. Last season Ronaldo was criticized for being selfish and trying to do too much. Ronaldo finished 13th in the league in assists last season while Messi finished 2nd. This season Messi is leading the league while Ronaldo is in 4th, and both are 2 assists away from equalling last year’s tallies. Below is a chart of their accumulated points (2*goals+assists) from last season versus this season. Their output is so close to each other this season, it will be interesting to see who cool’s off first.
|Total points for Messi and Ronaldo over the last two seasons. There’s no separation between the two this season.|
The build up to the Superclasico has been at a fever pitch lately. The front pages of Spain’s sport dailies Marca and SPORT have been running stories about it for weeks now. Adding to the hysteria is the rivalry between Messi and Ronaldo. The last few weeks in La Liga has been something of an “anything you can do, I can do better” contest between the two. I can’t recall ever seeing two players scoring at will like this. Whatever one does, the other has to match or exceed. Messi, so far this season, has 3 braces and a hattrick — not a bad haul for week 11. Ronaldo? 3 braces, a hattrick, and a 4 goal game.
Last year, the anticipation for the match was at a ridiculous level since it was the first time Ronaldo would be facing Barcelona as a Madrid player. However, the form that he and Messi were in was nothing compared to the form they are in currently.
In 2009, Messi and Ronald both got off to better starts to the season than in 2010. However, Ronaldo picked up an injury and Messi cooled off, so they both came into the Superclasico looking somewhat human.
This season, they both got off to modest starts, but then really kicked it into high gear for the last 5-6 weeks. What’s particularly amazing is that a lot of players are blaming their slow starts to the season on World Cup hangovers. Doesn’t seem to be a problem for these two.