PARIS?Arguments over who is the better player can rumble long into the night, but Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo can at least be compared scientifically in the cold currency of goals.
With an astonishing 52 goals in 54 competitive club matches this season, Barcelona phenomenon Messi is scoring at a rate that has not been seen in top-level European football since the 1950s.
His 50th goal arrived in a 2-0 defeat of Osasuna in late April and broke a Spanish goalscoring record previously held by Real Madrid's great Hungarian forward Ferenc Puskas.
More impressive than the mere statistics, however, has been the quality of Messi's goals.
A relentless and persistent dribbler who operates at the hub of Barca's attack, Messi's strikes frequently involve him weaving through a posse of defenders before beating the goalkeeper with a deft finish.
His second goal in Barca's 2-0 defeat of Ronaldo's Real in the first leg of their hotly contested Champions League semi-final was a case in point.
An exchange of passes with Sergio Busquets late in the game released Messi to bear down on the Real defence and after shrugging off Lassana Diarra he skipped past three defenders before rolling the ball into the bottom-left corner with his right foot.
It is goals of such majesty that helped Messi to win the inaugural FIFA Ballon d'Or award in December last year despite fierce competition from his World Cup-winning Spanish team-mates, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Messi, it is said, is a genius, while Ronaldo is a machine.
In recent weeks, however, that machine has cranked into gear in such irresistible fashion that the Portuguese is now poised to eclipse his Argentine nemesis in the battle for Spain's golden boot.
Barcelona having romped to a 21st league title, Ronaldo has turned his attention to filling his boots and his recent form threatens to put even Messi's achievements in the shade.
After netting four goals in a 6-2 thrashing of Sevilla on May 7, he netted a hat-trick -- his sixth of the season -- in a 4-0 defeat of Getafe last Tuesday to go five goals clear of Messi in the 'Pichichi' standings.
The award, named after Athletic Bilbao's prolific 1920s goalscorer Rafael Moreno 'Pichichi' Aranzadi, is given to the top scorer in the Spanish league each season.
With 36 goals under his belt -- and 50 in all competitions -- Ronaldo is in line to beat the all-time record of 38 strikes jointly held by Real's explosive Mexican striker Hugo Sanchez (1989-90) and Bilbao's Telmo Zarra (1950-51).
There will be a title party at Camp Nou when Barca host Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday, but the debate over who is the superior player will only get rowdier if Ronaldo can pip Messi to the golden boot.