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A Messi Goal Is Worth More Than A Ronaldo Goal. We Have Proof.

In a couple decades, soccer aficionados will debate the illustrious careers of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Heck, what are we talking about. Anyone who knows anything about soccer debates Messi vs Ronaldo now. It's practically an industry in and of itself.

In these debates, each side presents passionate arguments about style, accomplishments (more likely than not) statistics about the number of goals scored by Messi and Ronaldo per season, per match and throughout their careers.

Each season, we look at the head-to-head tally of goals per player, and often use that to determine who is “the best player in the world?” But is it just the size of the count that matters? Or, really, how much each goal scored matters? To answer the latter, researchers at The Economist have attempted to analyze the value of each goal Messi and Ronaldo scored during 2013 and 2014.

Cumulatively, Ronaldo scored more goals than Messi during this two-year window (105 to 86, respectively). Ronaldo also won the Ballon D’Or after scoring three during the semi-final and final of the Champions League. The question is, do the extra 19 goals and a big award confirm that CR7 is in fact the most valuable player on the pitch? 

The researchers at The Economist were able to value each goal according to the context in which it was scored. For instance, scoring an add-on goal (or 3) in a 6-1 route isn’t as meaningful as a game-winner during second half stoppage. This is particularly important in a World Cup match instead of a friendly. The weighted scores are termed Expected Points Added (EPA), a derivative of baseball’s Win Probability Added analysis. (If you want to really geek out on some soccer numbers, start here).

Here's a graphic depiction of what the analysis tells us.

Messi vs Ronaldo: Match Weighted Goal Analysis

Messi vs Ronaldo Goal Analysis

Graphic: Jamie Bartlett |

While Ronaldo dominated Messi in cumulative goals over the two year period examined, you could argue that Messi’s 86 goals, on average, were much more valuable based on their context (or EPA). In other words, Ronaldo’s scoring did not contribute as much to the success of the team as Messi's (a.k.a. Messi was more clutch).

So the next time you’re debating who is the best footballer in the world, or Messi vs Ronaldo more broadly, feel free to throw some of this science down on the table.

Follow me on Twitter: @jamieatthe18

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