They're not finished. They're still two of the planet's best footballers and will battle for the game's biggest prizes over the next few years, but it's clear now that the 2021-22 season marks a personal decline for both Lionel Messi and Cristiano that's indicative of life as a professional athlete in your mid to late thirties.
For Messi, it'll be the first time in 14 years that he doesn't surpass 30 goals across all competitions. He's at seven with just 10 matches remaining.
For Ronaldo — who also has very little chance of reaching 30 goals (something he's done in 11 of the past 12 years) — it's probably more meaningful that this season marks the first time he's ever fallen to Diego Simeone's Atlético Madrid in the Champions League. It's a run worth recalling.
2014: Atlético and Real meet in the final. Ronaldo scores the last goal in Real's 4-1 win.
2015: Atlético loses to Real and Ronaldo in the quarterfinals, 1-0 on aggregate.
2016: Atlético and Real meet again in the final. Ronaldo converts the decisive spot kick in the penalty shootout.
2017: Atlético and Real meet in the semifinals. It's over after the first leg when Ronaldo scores a hat-trick at the Bernabéu.
2018: Atlético avoid Ronaldo by playing in and winning the Europa League!
2019: Atlético meets Ronaldo's new club Juventus in the last-16 and takes a 2-0 first leg lead! Ronaldo scores a hat-trick in the return leg, Juve wins 3-2.
2020: Atlético and Juventus are drawn together in the group stage. Juve finishes top by winning and drawing against Atléti.
2021: No meeting.
2022: Atlético meets Ronaldo's new club Manchester United in the last-16. ATLÉTICO WINS 2-1 ON AGGREGATE!
Ronaldo was unplayable three days ago when scoring an outrageous hat-trick against Tottenham, but he went the way of Messi against Real Madrid on Tuesday night at Old Trafford. The Portuguese legend didn't attempt a shot, although he wasn't provided any service from Bruno Fernandes (who was a 10 out of 10 when it came to talking to the referee and a 2 out of 10 when it came to playing football), Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga.
The problems at United go far beyond Ronaldo (Fred was perhaps the team's best player), and Atlético's deciding goal in the 41st minute was a great example of that.
João Félix was played into space out wide and it looked like he could send in a cross for Renan Lodi at the back post if he spotted him, but Félix instead opted to shift it to Antoine Griezmann, who had noticed Lodi in space, and the Frenchman found the Brazilian for the downward header.
In all this time Diogo Dalot showed a complete lack of defensive awareness at full back.
Renan Lodi gives Atleti the lead on the counter! pic.twitter.com/ljt7KfiktS— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) March 15, 2022
On CBS Peter Drury said the atmosphere at Old Trafford was worthy of at least a Champions League quarterfinal, but there was a sense that neither of these clubs are currently worthy of that stage.
Atlético sucked the life out of United over the final 40 minutes to remind us all that yes, the Colchoneros will make anyone suffer in the quarters and better suited to being there. They were also helped by the fact that United looked incredibly naive to their tactics, like they hadn't watched an Atlético match in the last decade. But the Red Devils generally give off that sense of cluelessness when faced with a strong opponent, so maybe there's nothing new there.
As for Messi and Ronaldo, it'll be interesting to see if they both return to their respective sides next season. They agreed to similar contracts — two years with the option of a third — but this has been a strangely joyless season for two players that've brought an unquantifiable amount of excitement and greatness to our game.
I still wouldn't bet against excellent 2022-23 seasons from either.
Getting booed by their own fans
— Troll Football (@TrollFootball) March 14, 2022