Maybe your gut tells you different, but an advanced statistical study in The Economist says Lionel Messi is the king of goal scoring, and has been for some time.
While admitting that the idea of “clutch” is more emotive than factual, the report says that Messi has been scoring more important goals for club and country in 2013 and 2014.
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It gives more weight to goals in close and high-profile matches, putting less emphasis on goals that make a game 6-1. And with both Barcelona and Real Madrid, as well as Portugal and Argentina, being the sorts of teams that manufacture loads of goals, neither should be shorted.
To the number nerdery! From The Economist:
So what happens when this analysis is applied to every single goal scored by the game’s two leading lights in La Liga, the pan-European Champions League and the World Cup during 2013 and 2014? Mr Ronaldo’s edge all but vanishes. The pride of Portugal’s 105 goals contributed 41.6 EP to Real Madrid and his national squad, an average of 0.40 EPA per goal. Although he assured himself a second straight Ballon d’Or with three goals in the semi-final and final of last year’s Champions League, all of them were mere pile-ons. In the return leg against Bayern Munich, he scored when Los Blancos already led 3-0 and 4-0 in the aggregate, for a combined EPA of just 0.29. And in the final, his score was a penalty kick in extra time when Real Madrid already enjoyed a 3-1 lead, yielding a trivial 0.004 of EPA. In contrast, the supposedly slumping Mr Messi squeezed 40.3 EPA from his 86 goals, an average of 0.47 each. He showed a remarkable knack for scoring when it counted: on five different occasions in 2013 and 2014, he netted a tie-breaking goal in the final 20 minutes of a contest. In other words, the Argentine’s 20% deficit in raw goals relative to Mr Ronaldo was almost entirely offset by a 20% advantage in the importance of the goals he did score.
Moreover, even this metric fails to do full justice to the superior timing of Mr Messi’s scoring. Just as important as when a player’s goals occur within a match is which matches they occur in. And Mr Messi’s goals—particularly his match-winners—have been heavily concentrated in his teams’ most crucial contests.
The site makes the entire data set available for your eyes here, and there are some interesting things to note. For one thing, Ronaldo has scored 19 more goals than Messi (105-86). But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Ronaldo has scored 19 penalties (out of 22 attempts), while Messi made 11 (of 13).
For those wondering about the tricky “assist” statistic, Ronaldo contributed 30 between the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons, while Messi recorded 40. Ronaldo has played four more matches.