Football’s icons, Lionel Messi and his arch rival, Cristiano Ronaldo are set for a Champions League showdown in what will be their first meeting since the Portuguese’s move to Juventus in 2018.
Both Barcelona and Juventus have already qualified for the next stage of the Champions League and Ronald Koeman’s men need to avoid losing by at least two goals to clinch top spot in Group G.
Ronaldo and Messi have faced each other in 35 games between club (33) and country (2), with both international meetings being friendlies. It is one win apiece too – Argentina won 2-1 in February 2011, with both Ronaldo and Messi scoring. The other was in November 2014 with a Portugal 1-0 win.
Their most regular clash came in El Clasico, with only three of their 33 club games being played while Ronaldo was at Manchester United. The other 30 were between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Messi has been victorious in 16 of their 35 meetings, Ronaldo in ten, with nine draws.
It would be recalled that Ronaldo missed out in the reverse fixture in October after testing positive for coronavirus. Barcelona were 2-0 winners at the Juventus Stadium with Messi scoring a 90th-minute penalty after Ousmane Dembele’s early opener.
The six-time and five-time world best players have faced each other five times in the Champions League, three times when the Portuguese played for Manchester United and twice for Real Madrid. They have not met in European competition since the El Clasico semi-final in the 2010/2011 season.
Tonight’s face-off will again spark the unending debate of who is the greatest among the two best players to have ever graced soccer.
Speaking about the match, Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman said: “Our goal is always to win by playing well. We intend to finish first in the group, we have a good advantage and good chances. We’ve made many mistakes that have cost us points, we need to keep a better balance and improve our effectiveness.
“We aren’t just thinking about Cristiano, who is nevertheless a great champion, who always battles and scores. We’re thinking about tomorrow’s great match: we’ll have to defend well and keep possession of the ball.
“It will be fantastic to see two great champions like Messi and Cristiano, the best of the last 15 years. It’s not nice to say who is the best, I admire both, because they are incredible and have given us great evenings.”
On his part, Juventus manager Andrea Pirlo said: “This match is especially important for our growth and self-esteem. Coming first is important, but what we put in on the pitch is even more important.
“Compared to the first game, we need to improve the non-possession phase and be closer to the midfield and defensive lines. In the derby [against Torino], we had a completely different attitude between the first and second half, winning all the duels. This is the attitude that is part of Juve’s DNA and must never be missing.
“Koeman is right: it would be wrong to say who is better between Messi and Cristiano. They are two phenomenons that put-on spectacles for millions of fans. We just have to thank them.
“It’s a period where many great players struggle, it’s normal. The great players have had little time to rest and were immediately busy with their national teams. Everything will be more normal after Christmas. If Cristiano is in good form, it means that he is in the right place at the right time and we are good at giving him the ball.”