Lionel Messi scored the 50th free-kick of his Barcelona career on Sunday night – laying down a huge marker in a personal duel with Cristiano Ronaldo.
The debate continues to rage over which of the two stars is the best player in the world, with many believing they are the greatest of all time.
But Messi appears to have gained the upper hand over his great rival in one area, with the Barcelona icon having taken his set-piece game to the next level.
The 33-year-old scored twice in a 3-2 win over Valencia on Sunday night, keeping Barca third in La Liga – level on points with two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid.
Messi’s second goal ultimately proved the winner, with the Argentina ace stepping up to fire a 25-yard free-kick past keeper Jasper Cillessen via the post.
And it took him level with Ronaldo on 56 career free-kick goals for club and country.
But as shown in analysis by Michel Acosta, Messi’s set-piece stats are on the up in recent years, while Ronaldo’s are declining.
Ronaldo scored most of his free-kick goals for Real Madrid, while the vast majority of Messi’s have of course been in Barca’s colours, with the one-club man having also scored six for Argentina.
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The most free-kicks Messi has scored in one campaign was during 2015/16, when he fired in nine for club and country – although he almost matched that two seasons ago when he banged in eight.
But Ronaldo’s numbers have been on the wane since the 2010/11 season, when he peaked with seven free-kick strikes.
Messi is two years and four months younger than Ronaldo, and did not score his first free-kick until five seasons after his rival, during the 2008/9 campaign.
But Messi’s upward curve since then has been much sharper, with Ronaldo scoring more frequently before he turned 27, while his rival improved after that age. Messi’s free-kick accuracy has also improved in recent seasons, while Ronaldo’s has been in decline.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo was not to be outdone on Sunday as the former Manchester United man matched Messi’s double by scoring both goals in a 2-1 win for Juventus over Udinese.
The victory kept Juve third in Serie A, in a tight battle for the Champions League places behind newly crowned champions Inter Milan.
Ronaldo’s goals kept him out in front as the top scorer in the Italian top flight on 27 – six ahead of Inter’s Romelu Lukaku.
Messi is likewise La Liga’s top marksman this term with 28 – meaning only Robert Lewandowski is ahead of him in the scoring stakes in Europe’s top five leagues this season, with the Bayern Munich striker having netted 36 in the Bundesliga.