Real Madrid: Can anybody stop Cristiano Ronaldo?
Ronaldo picked up two more goals in Turin in what was another memorable European night for the Portuguese.
This was yet another golden night for Cristiano Ronaldo, the player who has scored more goals than anyone else in the history of the European Cup.
In a game that was eerily similar to last season’s Cardiff final – a three-goal winning margin, a dominant second-half display after Juventus pressure in the first half and the Italian team reduced to ten men – again it was Ronaldo who scored two goals: both the opener and the goal that killed the tie.
His second goal, an incredible acrobatic overhead kick, has been argued to be the very best of his 647 career goals. So good was it that the Juventus fans stood up and applauded.
Since Ronaldo has evolved his game, turning into a pure number nine, he has been unstoppable.
He has already matched last season’s tally of twelve goals in the competition and has a total of forty European goals in the last three seasons. His team looks well capable of lifting their third consecutive Champions League.
Ronaldo’s numbers are a credit to his teammates
Not only does such goal-scoring in the latter years of his career confirm him as a supreme finisher and one of the best individual footballers in history, it also underlines the quality of the service he gets.
Real Madrid have built an incredible team that get the best out of him – the likes of Dani Carvajal, Isco, Marcelo, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos show a consistent ability to create chances for him.
There are elite players, such as Edinson Cavani, Robert Lewandowski or Harry Kane who nominally carry out the same duties and occupy the same spaces but are not in his league because they don’t convert with the same ruthless efficiency. He is a master of converting chances and half chances.
Nobody else would score more goals in his position at Real Madrid but nowhere else would he receive service so suited to his strengths.
Now, Ronaldo will rarely create a goal by himself, as he did in his Manchester United days or early in his Real Madrid career. The mesmerising dribbles or forty-yard pile-drivers are a thing of the past. But in distilling his game to pure finishing, he is more of an asset to his team than ever before.
He still has an ability to shock and awe, but even then that will be from inside the penalty area – tonight’s overhead kick the latest example.
His performance, and the team’s performance, against Juventus perfectly encapsulates this. For the first goal, it was a perfect finish across goal that didn’t give Gianluigi Buffon a chance but it was Isco who ran in behind and cut-back the ball back for him.
Even with his stunning second, you can point to a piece of quality from a teammate – in this case, Carvajal’s perfectly weighted, floated in cross.
To stop Ronaldo, you don’t stop him. You stop Modric, Isco, Kroos, Carvajal or Marcelo – cut him off at the supply.
Who can stop him?
It is now ten consecutive Champions League games in which Ronaldo has scored – a new record.
The two he scored tonight, as well as his assist for the third, almost certainly have knocked Juventus out – the only team to have been able to send Madrid out of the competition since 2013.
Juventus have not lost a European game at home in five years, and boast arguably the best defence in the competition – having conceded just one league goal in 2018. If Juventus couldn’t stop him, it begs the question – can anyone?
The Italian league leaders are the kings of nuts-and-bolts dogged defending and got picked apart by Madrid. That they couldn’t keep Ronaldo out perhaps shows us that a traditional defensive approach just won’t work – Madrid, invariably, will find a way through.
This perhaps suggests Manchester City might be best suited to them. Not only are they arguably the best and most cohesive team Zidane’s Madrid will have faced in Europe, but their approach is suffocating.
Guardiola’s system has had them concede fewer goals than any other English side this season and minimises opportunities for the opposition – in their last three league games, they have only faced two shots on target. Starving them of the ball is one way of denying them – although they could be susceptible to the counter.
Should Liverpool qualify, the idea of Dejan Lovren marking him will give Kopites nightmares – they do not possess enough defensive quality to keep them at bay. Their breathless pressing and brave approach might cause Madrid problems but their only hope would be of outscoring them.
If they’re to dream of another European trophy, they will want to avoid Madrid at all costs or at least play them in a final rather than withstand two legs.
Assuming Bayern Munich qualify for the semi-finals, they will have confidence in their abilities. In Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels, they boast one of Europe’s best central defensive pairings.
World Cup winners they may be, but they looked defensively shaky against Sevilla and are so rarely tested in Germany by a side of close to Madrid’s quality. If hardened veterans Barzagli and Chiellini couldn’t do it, then why should they be expected to?
The old rivals
Barring a huge upset against Roma, that leaves their eternal rivals Barcelona, who have already kept a clean sheet against them this season and have a good recent record against Zidane’s team.
With just fifteen goals conceded in La Liga, they look as solid defensively as they ever have with midfield reinforcement ahead of the back four, and the stellar form of Marc Andre Ter Stegen and Samuel Umtiti fundamental to that.
But the down-and-out Madrid they beat 3-0 in December now look an entirely different prospect – they are back to their best.
This Madrid looks like the one that won 5-1 on aggregate in this season’s curtain raiser, the Supercopa, with Ronaldo scoring despite only featuring for 25 minutes in total, and his teammates scoring four goals without him.
A daunting prospect, but it must be said Barcelona are much improved since then.
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