12 great players - and the teams that they struggled to score against

After Lionel Messi finally broke his Chelsea duck, Huw Davies examines the teams who kept the best at bay

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Lionel Messi vs Chelsea

Games: 9, goals: 1

It’s among the great mysteries of our times. What happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? How does bitcoin work? Why couldn't Lionel Messi score against Chelsea?

While their supporters would answer: “Because Chelsea are great”, consider that Atletico and Real Madrid have also been pretty decent over the past decade or so, and Messi has scored 52 (!) times in 72 (!!) matches against the pair. Do English teams give The Flea the willies? Nine goals in six meetings with Arsenal and six in six with Manchester City, not to mention two Champions League final strikes against Manchester United, would suggest otherwise. Chelsea, though, kept Messi at bay eight times out of eight – at least until 2018 came round.

It’s mattered, too. Barcelona hadn’t won any of their last seven meetings with the Blues ahead of their 2018 last-16 first-leg draw. Their most recent encounter before this year saw Chelsea squeak into the 2012 Champions League final as an unusually profligate Messi hit the crossbar, the post, the side netting and Petr Cech’s pins. He's finally broken his Blues hoodoo in 2018, even if one in nine still isn't up to his usual standard.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Chelsea

Games: 15, goals: 1

Honestly, it’s typical of their oneupmanship that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo even compete to be the best at being rubbish against Chelsea. This time, Messi wins/loses, because Ronaldo he was the first to actually score against Chelsea – and in a Champions League final, no less.

But while we can hardly dismiss that goal in Moscow (even if he did subsequently miss a penalty in the shootout), it remains Ronaldo’s only strike against a team he’s faced on 15 – fifteen – occasions. Pitted against Chelsea, one of the most prolific players in football’s long history has scored one goal in over 20 hours of football, or 13 and a half full matches, spread across five different competitions. Actually, we should give him credit for choosing the best possible time to score it.

There’s one important thing to bear in mind regarding CR7’s Chelsea blues: all 15 of those attempts came with Manchester United, before his goal returns hit truly stratospheric heights. Oddly, considering their regular participations in the Champions League, Chelsea and Real Madrid haven’t faced each other once this century.

Ronaldinho vs Celtic

Games: 6, goals: 0

Recently-retired Ronnie may smile determinedly and try to console himself with memories of winning a Ballon d’Or, the World Cup, the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores, the Copa America and a handful of league titles, but there’s a hidden pain behind that toothy grin. It haunts him that he never scored against Celtic.

It’s not as if he didn’t have the opportunity. At Barcelona, Ronaldinho was in the starting line-up for six fixtures against Celtic, winning three, drawing two. He just never found the net himself.

It’s OK, Ronnie. Bhoys don’t cry.

Raheem Sterling vs Manchester United

Games: 13, goals: 0

Playing for Manchester City having previously represented Liverpool, Sterling should by now be mentally conditioned to despise Manchester United. The mutual enemy of his two clubs have yet to feel his wrath, however, as the 23-year-old’s 13 appearances against United have produced nary a goal or assist (although he did nutmeg Ashley Young last time out).

At least Sterling can relax for the derby on April 7 – City should have won the title by then.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs Real Madrid

Games: 7, goals: 1

The big man has struggled against Juventus as well, scoring only once in nine fixtures against his former club, but what’s especially endearing about his one-in-seven record against Real Madrid is that they seem to follow Ibrahimovic around, taunting him. In two full matches taking on Madrid with Juve, one of them going to extra time, he scored no goals.

Two full matches with Milan: no goals. Two full matches with PSG: no goals. Los Merengues must’ve been gutted when injury prevented Ibrahimovic from facing them with Manchester United in last year’s Super Cup – they could’ve shown him all of their Champions League trophies as well.

Still, the one time Ibrahimovic did thwart Real Madrid, he came off the bench for Barcelona to score the winner in El Clasico. So there.

Robert Lewandowski vs Borussia Moenchengladbach

Games: 12, goals: 1

Lewandowski gets rather a lot of goals in Germany. He averages just under a goal per game against Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen, Mainz, Hannover and Hamburg, and more than a goal per game against Freiburg, while putting 18 past poor Augsburg in only 13 appearances.

Then there’s Gladbach. Eleven starts, one substitute appearance, one goal. He hasn’t scored against his bogey team since 2011, some 800 footballing minutes ago.

And don’t go thinking Lewandowski’s team-mates got by without him. Some hoodoos are pretty inconsequential: for instance, Neymar may have failed to net even once in eight ties with Valencia but he did contribute five assists and Barcelona won most of those games anyway.

Lewandowski’s recurring heebie-jeebies in front of the Gladbach net, however, has cost his teams points – indeed, his last eight appearances (two with Dortmund, six with Bayern) have brought two wins, two draws and four defeats. He’d be Glad to see the Bach of them.