While there is a lot of fanfare over Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe taking the upper hand at the top of the game, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are far from done.
With new teams (well, half new in Ronaldo’s case), the pair return this week to the world’s biggest club sport stage, refreshed and ready to try to add to their European Cup tally.
As Messi leads Ronaldo six to five in Ballon d’Or titles, Ronaldo has the Champions League title advantage by five to four, but the Argentine has his best chance in years to increase his total.
Joining Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Gini Wijnaldum at PSG, Messi has arguably been part of the most blockbuster transfer window in gaming history after leaving Barcelona.
Parisians are now favorites to win the competition this season, but you’d be foolish to rule out Manchester United having a say, now that Ronaldo has joined Juventus.
He’s only been back for 90 minutes, but two goals in a winning game against Newcastle this weekend gave that ‘missing piece of the puzzle’ vibe.
Ronaldo will be more determined than ever to make a difference in a winnable squad starting with a clash against Young Boys which will be live on talkSPORT 2 on Tuesday and already had best wishes from his mother.
For years, the two faced each other nationally and on the European front when Ronaldo joined Real Madrid.
They parted ways in 2018 when Ronaldo left Spain for Italy, but they have always dominated the best European competition. talkSPORT.com looks back at how they did it …
How it started
Ronaldo’s Champions League debut came in 2003 with Man United against Stuttgart, having already appeared in a qualifying game a year earlier with Sporting Lisbon.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side lost the group stage game 2-1 to Bundesliga table tops Felix Magath, but Ronaldo won a penalty, providing the best part of the game for his side.
Ronaldo impressed in his debut by winning a penalty against Stuttgart[/caption]
Meanwhile, a long-haired Messi made his Champions League debut against Shakhtar Donetsk in 2004 in number 30 which he now wears at PSG.
The night was far from his own, however, with Shakhtar forward Julius Aghahowa easily making the headlines with a brace in a 2-0 win for the Ukrainians.
Former Wigan striker Aghahowa stole the show in Messi’s debut[/caption]
Ronaldo may be the competition’s top scorer with a gargantuan 134 goals, but you’ll be surprised to learn he was a slow starter, taking 27 games and four years before finding the goal at Europe’s top level.
The Real Madrid legend finally managed to score in United’s famous 7-1 quarter-final loss to Rome in 2007 and was as relieved as he had ever been.
The cork was out of the bottle, however, and a second soon followed in the same match.
Ronaldo’s incredible record of 134 Champions League goals is even more incredible considering he hasn’t scored in four years[/caption]
Messi didn’t take that long to find the net, and did so in one of the only ways possible.
In a 5-0 Panathinaikos rout in 2005, the scruffy young Argentinian took advantage of an embarrassing defense before hitting a loose ball at the keeper, which he then recovered and tapped into the net.
Messi celebrates his first Champions League goal[/caption]
The greatest moment
After leading 2-0 in the first leg, Atletico Madrid fans were already celebrating Juventus’ elimination from the Champions League in 2019, all the sweeter since they were against one of their greatest rivals, former Real Madrid star Ronaldo.
Ronaldo left the game after the media feather reminding everyone that his five Champions League titles are more than Atletico zero, but it all seemed in vain.
Back in Turin, Ronaldo was on a mission, first leaping into the air to guide a scorer’s header, before needing goal-line technology to tie the score overall after putting the ball in. the net.
The sequel was inevitable, with Ronaldo crushing a penalty to remain forever in the nightmares of Atleti fans.
In one of the big clashes of the titans of the competition, a full-fledged world-class Barcelona faced a full-fledged world-class Bayern Munich in the semifinals of the 2014/15 edition.
Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Neymar and Luis Suarez all had to have their say, but instead Messi took Bayern to the cleaners.
His first was an unstoppable classic box snipe edge, but the second will go down in competition history, almost seeming to knock Jerome Boateng unconscious with his ridiculous footwork before chipping Manuel Neuer with his weaker foot.
Messi ended the game with an assist for Neymar, and sent Barca to the final which he won.
Ronaldo and Messi first met in Europe in United’s victory in 2008, with just one goal from Paul Scholes separating the two teams in an intense semi-final.
And their next clash would be in Ronaldo’s final game for the Red Devils until this year’s comeback, with Messi’s iconic header in the 2009 final sealing the title for Barca at Stadio Olimpico.
They had to wait until 2011 before meeting again, at the height of the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona, when Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola’s hatred for each other overflowed.
Messi then destroyed Madrid’s backline with an astonishing goal in the semi-finals at the Bernabeu, which saw Guardiola’s side triple in the history books.
Their last game in 2020 during the lockdown, with Ronaldo scoring twice on the spot.
Ronaldo wins: two
Messi wins: two
Ronaldo’s goals: two
Messi’s goals: three
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TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14
- Young Boys vs. Manchester United – 5:45 p.m. – talkSPORT 2
- Chelsea v Zenit – 8:00 p.m. – talkSPORT
- Barcelona v Bayern Munich – 8:00 p.m. – talkSPORT 2
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 15
- Inter Milan v Real Madrid – 8:00 p.m. – talkSPORT 2
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 16
- Dinamo Zagreb v West Ham – 5:45 p.m. – talkSPORT 2
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 18
- Wolves v Brentford – 12:30 p.m. – talkSPORT EXCLUSIVE
- Hull v Sheffield United – 12:30 p.m. – talkSPORT 2 EXCLUSIVE
- Liverpool v Crystal Palace – 3:00 p.m. – talkSPORT 2 EXCLUSIVE
- Aston Villa vs. Everton – 5:30 p.m. – talkSPORT EXCLUSIVE