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Monday, 17 December, 2018

The Messi-Ronaldo Golden Boot duopoly may finally be broken

Robert Lewandowski can bang them in for Bayern Munich

Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Muenchen celebrates
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The Champions League top goalscorer market has been a licence to print money for Cristiano Ronaldo backers in recent years.

Ronaldo has finished top of the charts on his own in five of the last six years and in the other season he dead-heated with Neymar and Lionel Messi who, much like his great rival, also has a great record in this betting heat.

Messi won four Champions League Golden Boots in a row between 2009 and 2012, while the first of Ronaldo's top-scorer efforts was back in his Manchester United days in 2008.

The last player other than Messi or Ronaldo to win on their own was Kaka with Milan in 2007, but the duopoly could be over this term.

Ronaldo is the most ruthless hitman in the history of the competition with 120 goals and he has little to prove. However, he has left Real Madrid for Juventus, who don't play in the same swashbuckling style and their group, alongside Manchester United and Valencia, is tricky.

Those banking on Ronaldo will be hoping it's men against boys when Juve meet Young Boys and that could be the case in Turin, although at 33 even the ultra-fit Portuguese ace will need some looking after.

The away trip to Switzerland is on matchday six and if Juve are already through to the last 16 don't expect Ronaldo to be given much of a run on the artificial surface at the Wankdorf.

Prior to that Swiss trip on December 12, Juventus host Inter. Afterwards there is the small matter of the derby with Torino and a home clash with Roma before a busy Christmas period which sees Serie A breaking with tradition to play on Boxing Day and another round of fixtures before 2019 starts. 

Messi is clearly more settled in his role at Barcelona and deserves to be favourite but the group matches with Inter, PSV Eindhoven and Tottenham could have been much easier and his last solo triumph in this market was in 2012.

That may have something to do with Messi's unselfish nature, a point once again rammed home earlier this season when he passed over spot-kick duties to teammate Luis Suarez despite being on a hat-trick against Huesca.

Suarez will need even more help to be in the mix with two of the greatest footballers ever to have graced the sport taking the scoring to new heights with Ronaldo notching 43 goals across the last three Champions League competitions, but there are enough doubts to tentatively glance elsewhere on this occasion.

What punters need is an elite striker, playing up front on his own without the likelihood of squad rotation, for a club in a comfortable group with the potential to go deep in the competition and a decent Champions League pedigree.

Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich ticks every box.

Bayern should easily come through a group containing Benfica, Ajax and AEK Athens and the Bundesliga giants usually set a strong standard in the Champions League with six semi-final appearances in the past seven years.

Lewandowski has notched 45 times in 70 Champions League matches, claiming the each-way money in two of the past three years, and there is not a huge amount of competition for places in terms of the striking role at the Allianz Arena.

The average Sandro Wagner is next in line to challenge Lewandowski's starting place at Bayern and the Pole showed his wellbeing this season with a Super Cup hat-trick against Eintracht Frankfurt. He also takes Bayern's penalties.

Lewandowski can rely upon ace service from the likes of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and James Rodriguez and appears by far the most likely man to fill the void if the big two fall short.

Manchester City should put their group-stage opponents to the sword but Sergio Aguero may have to share time with Gabriel Jesus and around Europe there are teams with as many as three possible Golden Boot contenders which may harm all of their chances.

Liverpool's front trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane all collected the each-way money last term, although repeating those record-breaking goalscoring exploits won't be easy. 

Choosing between group rivals Paris St-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani is virtually impossible - the Brazilian takes their penalties but has been used in a slightly deeper role at times this season by new boss Thomas Tuchel.

Who takes on the responsibility of replacing Ronaldo's goals at Real Madrid will be fascinating. 

Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale have both been in fine form in the embryonic stages of the new season, although returning forward Mariano Diaz is unlikely to get enough starts to make a major impact when it comes to winning the Champions League Golden Boot.

Counting against all of them is the probability of Sergio Ramos taking over penalty duties from Ronaldo, but Real Madrid's group alongside Roma, CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen affords the potential for somebody at the Bernabeu to make a fast start.

The same cannot be said for World Cup Golden Boot winner Harry Kane. He has plenty in his favour, taking penalties and being undroppable at Spurs, yet their draw with Inter and Barca means Tottenham will have to hit the ground running just to qualify.

Inter hotshot Mauro Icardi is a Serie A goal machine with tallies of 22, 16, 24 and 29 in the past four years. Like Kane he is first-choice and on penalties but the odds suggest Icardi will get just six matches in the competition.

More fixtures are anticipated for Antoine Griezmann and Romelu Lukaku at Atletico Madrid and Manchester United respectively. However, the duo are handicapped by playing for defensive-minded managers.

R Lewandowski top goalscorer
1.5pts each-way 12-1 general

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The last player other than Messi or Ronaldo to win on their own was Kaka with Milan in 2007
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