Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo: Barcelona and Real Madrid stars have almost identical statistics since 2009

World's two best players share almost identical stats

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Since Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in Madrid for £80million in 2009, it has been the eternal question: who is better out of him and Lionel Messi?

More than five years later we still don't know, with a preference for one or the other largely coming down to personal opinion.

After Cristiano Ronaldo scored a 23rd La Liga hat-trick on Saturday night Messi responded in the way they have been doing to each other throughout their careers - by scoring a hat-trick of his own, his third in four games.

In fact, statistics provided by WhoScored (click image above to enlarge) show that the rivalry is even closer than one might suspect - Ronaldo and Messi, undoubtedly the world's two best players, share almost identical statistics across the board.

Cristiano Ronaldo arrived for a then-world record fee and immediately took La Liga by storm, scoring 33 goals in 35 matches in his first season in white.

But back then, Messi was the undisputed king of world football, and scored 42 goals in La Liga and the Champions League as Barcelona won the Spanish crown.

Gradually, however, Ronaldo has improved his game to reach the level of his fierce rival and the stats bear that out, eerily so.

Since 2009 - counting La Liga and the Champions League only, not the Copa del Rey or other competitions - Cristiano Ronaldo has played 234 games, scoring 256 goals, while Messi has played five more games and scored three more goals (259 in 239); both astounding totals

With Ronaldo in the staring line-up Real Madrid have fared slightly better than Barcelona with Messi, but only just.Ronaldo-Messi.jpg

Real Madrid have won just shy of 77 per cent of games where the Portuguese has started and Barcelona just shy of 74 per cent, with each team losing around about 10 per cent of their matches when the two players play.

The way the goals have come is where the pair see their main difference.

Though the pair have netted a similar amount from inside (219 for Messi and 214 for Ronaldo) and outside of the box (40 for Messi and 42 for Ronaldo), the manner in which they have scored their goals highlights the differences.

Ronaldo has scored 29 headers since 2009 compared to just 10 for Messi, while Ronaldo has proved to be much more deadly from set-pieces, scoring 49 penalties and 23 free-kicks, compared to just 32 penalties and 13 free-kicks for Messi.

Messi scores the majority of his goals with his magical left-foot - 207 of the 259 - while Ronaldo has scored only 182 of his goals with his thunderous right-foot.

This rivalry looks set to continue

The pair's WhoScored ratings over the period are also near-identical, 8.67 for Messi compared to just 8.31 for Ronaldo.

There is one area where Messi has been more successful than his opposite number: trohpies.

In those five seasons, Messi, part of arguably the greatest club team of all time, has won La Liga three times compared to just one for Ronaldo in 2011-12.

However, the tide could be turning in Ronaldo's favour. Winning La Decima made it 1-1 in Champions League wins since 2009 and the Copa del Rey triumph made it two for Ronaldo to Messi's one.

With Real Madrid currently top of La Liga and victorious in El Clasico in October, as well as being the favourite to win a second successive Ballon d'Or, it may be that Ronaldo is edging ahead in the head-to-head.

But as Messi showed at the weekend, responding to Ronaldo's hat-trick with one of his own, there is still a long way to go in this great rivalry.