The rivalry between the two best soccer teams in Spain — Barcelona and Real Madrid — is one that really has no American analogue. If you took the Red Sox-Yankees, Duke-North Carolina, and Ohio State-Michigan rivalries and combined them into one mega-rivalry, you might begin to scratch the surface. But beyond the political implications of Catalonia versus the rest of Spain and the competitive implications in the La Liga standings, there is the simplest battle of them all: Barcelona’s Lionel Messi versus Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Both Messi and Ronaldo give Barcelona and Madrid an otherworldly amount of production. Last season, Messi led Ronaldo in club goals, 73-64 in all competitions. There wasn’t a single team in La Liga, other than Barca and Madrid, that scored 60 goals. In the last seven days alone, Ronaldo has scored eight goals. For most attacking players, it’s a noteworthy game when you get a goal. For these guys, it’s noteworthy when they don’t score multiple times per game. The pair have won the last four FIFA Ballon d’Or awards, given to the best player in the world (though Messi has won the last three).
Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho said it best after Sunday’s game, when he deadpanned:
I would like it to be prohibited for anyone to say who is the best in the world. For me, it should not be allowed, because these two players are from another planet.
The two teams met Sunday in El Clásico, the name given to league matchups of the rivalry, and the game lived up to its moniker. More impressively, both Ronaldo and Messi played equally extraordinary soccer and did absolutely nothing to decide the debate over who is the best in the world. Even if you didn’t know what each player looked like or what number they wore, you probably could have figured out who they were Sunday. Barcelona and Real Madrid are filled with some of the best players in the world, including the bulk of Spain’s World Cup and Euro 2012-winning roster, but Ronaldo and Messi essentially made you forget entirely about the other 20 players on the field. El Clásico is soccer played at the highest level — it’s electrifying even in the dullest moments — but this edition was an ultimate game of 1-on-1, with the two players accounting for all four of the goals in the 2-2 tie.
So which player is the best in the world? It’s impossible to say. The pro-Messi camp points to Barca’s era of dominance over the last five years (two Champions League trophies, three La Liga trophies, and countless others), while the pro-Ronaldo camp will argue that Ronaldo does more with less around him, that he’s won titles in two countries, and that Messi benefits immensely from the presence of world-renowned playmakers like Xavi and Andres Iniesta at Barcelona. Neither side is necessarily wrong, but here at BuzzFeed, we’ve devised the fairest way to separate the two. First to 1,000 goals wins.