Ronaldo 'unfortunate' to be playing in Messi's era - Barca's Rakitic
Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic politely disagreed with Cristiano Ronaldo's assumption that he's the best player in the history of football, nominating Lionel Messi for the position instead.
Real Madrid forward Ronaldo won his fifth Ballon d'Or this week -- drawing level with Messi in the process -- and later told France Football that he believes he's the greatest to ever play the game.
However, Rakitic does not share the assessment made by the Portugal international, who he says is "unfortunate" to have played at the same time as Messi.
"You know my opinion," Rakitic told reporters after Barcelona's 2-0 La Liga win over Villarreal on Sunday. "With all the respect in the world for Cristiano Ronaldo, he's up against the greatest in the history of the game.
"I congratulate him for winning the Ballon d'Or but, for me, Leo is unique. There's only one No. 1. Those behind him are unfortunate enough to have coincided with him."
Messi scored the second goal of the win at Villarreal -- matching Gerd Muller's long-standing record for the most goals for one club in the top five European leagues -- as Barca maintained their five-point lead at the top of the table over Valencia.
Luis Suarez had opened the scoring in the second half but not before the home side had been reduced to 10-men following Daniel Raba's dismissal.
Raba was sent off for a studs-up challenge on Sergio Busquets which unsurprisingly split the opinion of the two opposing coaches.
"I haven't seen it again but it didn't seem like a red card," Villarreal manager Javier Calleja said.
"Raba gets there late and it's a tough challenge, but I don't know if it's worth a red. If it's the other way around it wouldn't have been a sending off."
However, Ernesto Valverde felt Raba's own reaction to the decision told a different story.
"I think he realised how disproportionate the tackle was," the Barca boss said.
"I haven't seen it again on television, but it seemed a really strong challenge at the time. Even [Raba] himself seemed a little taken aback by it and didn't complain."
The win extended Barca's unbeaten streak to 23 games in all competitions going into next weekend's match against Deportivo La Coruna at Camp Nou.
Valverde labelled it an "important win in a difficult game" and also had praise for Thomas Vermaelen, who has filled in impressively following injuries to Javier Mascherano and Samuel Umtiti.
"We don't have any doubts about Vermaelen," he said about the Belgian defender.
"He's come into the side at a key moment for us and is responding really well."
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.