Real Madrid: Ronaldo is still crucial to Los Blancos’ success
The Portuguese star was absent in his side’s limp defeat at Espanyol suggesting the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is still central to any Madrid success.
Much has been made this season about the continued mastery of Lionel Messi at Barcelona with few in any position to dispute his status as the world’s best player, certainly not since August.
Andres Iniesta, another Barcelona star, has only completed one full match this season with many rightly pointing out that his age and physical condition no longer permits him to feature as prominently as in previous years.
Philippe Coutinho was signed by the Catalan giants largely in part to become the captain’s long-term successor in an advanced midfield role.
Yet few have made the age comparison between Barcelona’s captain and Cristiano Ronaldo – who celebrated his 33rd birthday in February.
The Portugal captain has largely been written off by many observers, who feel his awareness, reactionary speed and physical peak are starting to diminish. They point to his patchy form earlier in the season and his frustrations in front of goal.
Back in the goals
In the last few months, however, Ronaldo has rediscovered his -goalscoring touch and has already moved onto 28 goals for the campaign.
Such a return for virtually any other player would qualify him as one of the most decisive players in world football, yet such has been the expectation set by Ronaldo over his glittering career barely an eyelid is batted.
This figure is even more remarkable considering he sat out five matches at the start of the campaign due to a suspension and he has also been rested for the recent league games at Leganes and Espanyol, alongside the entirety of the disappointing Copa del Rey campaign.
His absence in Wednesday night’s loss was once more indicative of his importance to Zinedine Zidane’s side.
Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Isco are all fine talents in their own right yet none offer the focal point or leadership of the Portuguese. None offer the predatory movement and none draw opposition defences out of position as the former Manchester United star.
No ‘i’ in team
Ronaldo has a remarkable 12 goals in his last seven games and it could have been more but he passed up the chance of a hat-trick at home to Alaves to allow Benzema to take, and score, a late penalty.
It was an act of selflessness not often associated with the Madeira-native, yet is indicative of his efforts to increase the confidence of his teammates.
Two of those goals came against Paris Saint-Germain and while many will point to his below-par performance, his strikes were ultimately the difference in a game packed full of superstars.
It continued his remarkable run in the competition – 21 goals in his last 12 matches. Two against the Parisians, two in the final against Juventus, a hat-trick against Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals and five against Bayern Munich in the previous round.
Feared by all
Ronaldo is a player who offers the pivotal moments in the pivotal games against the best teams in the world.
Real Madrid and Zidane are cleverly giving him sufficient breaks to ensure fatigue does not set in, which should theoretically extend his longevity at the top level.
His absence and subsequent lack of form earlier in the season mirrored Real Madrid’s poor results but, when he is on the pitch in the final few months of the campaign, Los Blancos should be feared by every side.
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