Cristiano Ronaldo’s transformation into a penalty box predator was once more on show on Tuesday night, as the Portuguese passed 100 Champions League goals as Real Madrid defeated Bayern Munich in their quarter-final showdown.
Gone are the days of Ronaldo running down the left side, beating two men with speed and skill, and firing from distance. No longer does he sprint from the halfway line at the heart of opposing defences. And, at the age of 32, you can’t really expect him too.
Thus, the former Manchester United superstar has increasingly been moved into a more central role by Los Blancos boss Zinedine Zidane.
The Icebucket Challenge
As such, a new age of Cristiano has been ushered in over the last 18 months, one that keeps him closer to goal and, crucially, is allowing Ronaldo to retain his edge; the edge that has seen him become the most ruthless goalscorer of the past 10 years.
Lionel Messi’s featherlight touch and creativity has seen him adopt a more creative role in the Barcelona lineup as he approaches his 30th birthday, the Argentine at the heart of everything the Blaugrana do, his ability to dissect opposition defensive structures increasingly feeding Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Cristiano Ronaldo can’t even drink one cup of tea in public
By contrast, Ronaldo’s predatory instincts – his ability to ‘kill’ as Jose Mourinho would put it – in the final third, means he is now the focal point for the 11-time European Cup winners. The creation, getting the ball into the final third, is left to others. Now Ronaldo conserves energy, like a snake in the grass, before pouncing and making the difference.
Last week after Ronaldo had “been controlled very well” according to Carlo Ancelotti, he scored twice at the Allianz Arena with two penalty box finishes, to hand Los Blancos a first leg lead.
Thanks to all for 950.000 Followers love you all
A day with Ronaldo
At the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday night he went one better. Whatever the refereeing rights and wrongs, the history books will state that Ronaldo struck three times, firing the holders into a seventh successive semi-final.
Having failed to score in six Champions League matches – a drought by his earth-shatteringly high standards – Ronaldo has scored five in two, doing it when it mattered most, against an opposition of undoubted quality.
Increasingly that’s what it’s about for the club’s all-time record goalscorer; proving himself to be the man on the big occasion.
On Tuesday, Zidane stuck by his main marksman on a night when he had largely struggled for the opening 65 minutes or so, making poor choices, missing chances and getting little joy out of the imperious Mats Hummels in particular.
Bayern were emboldened in the second period and having taken the lead through Robert Lewandowski’s penalty, gained increasing joy down the right through full-back Philipp Lahm; the World Cup winner was often in space and untracked.
Zidane, looking to shut down that side, elected to bring on Marco Asensio. Certainly you don’t dare take off Ronaldo, risking the wrath of the player, the Bernabeu crowd and Florentino Perez. Thus, Karim Benzema was sacrificed, Ronaldo was the lone striker and Los Blancos, at home, went to 4-5-1.
Ronaldo never gives up, even with one eye
Unquestionably it was a defensive change by Zidane, one of fear. But within minutes, Ronaldo’s presence at the tip of the attack had been felt, a tremendous header past Manuel Neuer levelling the score after he had stealthily finding space between Lahm and Jerome Boateng. Yet, 60 seconds later, a Sergio Ramos own goal had the game back on a knife edge.
Ronaldo had scored but Bayern were in charge and Zidane’s defensive change had handed the visitors the initiative. Die Roten looked the most likely winner.
Sometimes it is better to be a lucky manager than a good one however. And when Casemiro wasn’t sent off – when perhaps he should have been – and Arturo Vidal was dismissed – when he certainly shouldn’t have – Zidane had got away with one.
Cristiano with Irina shayk
Bayern’s supremacy was immediately stripped away and with the extra man, Madrid, and specifically Ronaldo, made them pay.
The four-time Ballon d’Or winner’s athleticism may not be what it once was, but it’s still more than a match for all but the elite few in the 18-yard box; the five-yard bursts across defenders are as sharp as ever, while the brain is sharper still, more refined and focused on the difference-making moments.
He’s now just five goals off 400 for Real Madrid, having hit more than 50 goals in SIX successive seasons and at a time when Gary Neville is questioning whether he could play for another EIGHT years, as he seeks to run less and preserve himself for the moments that matter.
Mom and Jr always supporting the King
“What’s the long game for him? I wonder if he’s going to go on and play into his 40s,’ Neville questioned on Revista de La Liga.
“I wonder if he’s building up for a long career as a centre forward, where he can still score two goals and live off moments. He’s living off moments more than his all-round performance now. Since he’s gone to Real Madrid he’s contributed enormously to everything they’ve done but he’s living more off moments rather than a contribution through a whole 90 minutes.
“He’ll be thinking Pele. Those numbers. Those scandalous numbers you think you can never achieve, the appearances, the goals, and that to me is where it’s going. I think he’ll go on for a long, long time. And in this game, he’s becoming a goal-scorer, he’s getting in the box more, he’s coming across the near post, his heading is incredible anyway.
The Team after the game vs PSG
“I think we’ve seen the transformation of a player. He knows he can’t go up and down all the time now. He knows he can’t go past players all the time. He’ll become a goalscorer, a poacher and a good one.”
That transformation is pretty much complete, the ultimate match-winner now scouring for those moments when he must be decisive.
It is almost certainly set to add to his legacy and longevity. Bayern have already felt the force. They are unlikely to be the last.