If the plural of ‘sheep’ is ‘sheep’ why is the plural of ‘goat’ not ‘goat’?
The reason we ask is because it’s time to talk about two of football’s ‘greatest of all time’, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Anyone who’s watched either play football doesn’t need to be told how good they are. It would take a whole Encyclopedia to debate who is better, and even then you wouldn’t come up with a definitive answer.
But what happens when they aren’t playing.
Messi and Ronaldo are 30 and 32, so while the end of their respective careers aren’t that close, the time when neither will be playing is beginning to lurk on the horizon.
So who’s more reliant on their goat, Barcelona or Real Madrid?
What do the stats say?
Our supercomputer isn’t working today as we riddled it with viruses trying to download the latest Game of Thrones episode, so we’ve had to manually look back at the last ten games Messi and Ronaldo missed for their clubs.
Let’s start with Messi. In the last ten games he’s been absent, Barcelona have won six, lost three and drawn one, giving them a win ratio of 60%.
In those ten games Barcelona have scored 32 goals and conceded nine times.
So how does Ronaldo compare?
Madrid haven’t lost any of the last ten games they played without Ronaldo, registering nine wins and a draw.
That, of course, included a 2-0 win against Barcelona after Ronaldo had been sent off in the previous leg for pushing the referee.
Madrid scored more goals than Barcelona, at 38 to 32, but conceded five more goals in their ten Ronaldo-less games.
What the heart says?
Stats are nothing without context.
Madrid’s sterling work in the transfer market means that when Ronaldo wasn’t able to play Isco, Marco Asensio or Lucas Vazquez were able to join Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, if the latter was fit.
Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez, before they were sold to Chelsea and Bayern Munich, as well Mateo Kovacic, could also come in with Madrid changing formation if needed.
Compare Madrid’s strength in depth to Barcelona’s.
Barcelona tended to replace Messi with Arda Turan, Rafinha or Paco Alcacer, three players who might struggle to get a look in at the Nou Camp going forward.
It tended to be the midfield that struggled in Messi’s absence, more than the attack which, in Luis Suarez and Neymar, was still electric.
What does the future hold?
Look away now Barcelona fans.
It was hard not to view the Super Cup as a confirmation of the shift of power in Spain, as Madrid displayed a verve and confidence on the ball that was such a hallmark of Barcelona’s great sides.
The squad depth and age of Madrid’s squad under Zinedine Zidane is quite frankly ridiculous, even when Ronaldo isn’t playing.
Barcelona are reeling from the loss of Neymar, and a long-term injury to Messi would be catastrophic given how thin their squad is at the moment.
They can’t get Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho on a plane to Barcelona quick enough.
But, with Messi involved, you simply can’t write Barcelona off.