He’s been the hero all season with more appearances on the front pages than a contestant in the X-factor. The papers have fawned over his goals, over his pace and his style and over his ability to fins a team-mate with a pass now and then. But from one day to the next Cristiano Ronaldo has gone from being top dog to the goat.
There is nothing like a game against FC Barcelona to give you a reality check and that’s exactly what happened to Real Madrid on Saturday night.
It had been billed as a duel between two of the three candidates for the Balon D’Or as Ronaldo went head to head against Leo Messi once again, but after 90 minutes when the pitchside reporter asked Xavi Hernandez (the third candidate) if he thought he had a chance of winning the converted award, Xavi’s modest answer said it all…there’s only one candidate and his name is Leo.
Ronaldo has had an outstanding season: so far he has scored 17 goals in the BBVA Primera Liga and if six of those have come from the penalty spot, we should also add that this season his number of assists has also improved. He has looked less self-obsessed, less likely to let fly from 35 yards and more likely to lift his gaze to look for other companions.
Except, of course all of that went out of the window in el Clasico. With Madrid leading 1-0, he blazed high and wide with Angel Di Maria posed to supply what would have been a simple finish. With Barca leading 2-1, he planted the sort of header past the post that he would normally bury with ease. Barcelona duly went down to the other end and Cesc (what had a relatively quiet game) put the game out of reach.
In the bi-polar world of La Liga emotions and reactions are exaggerated: it’s either heaven or hell, which doesn’t held given that Real Madrid fans are not the most forgiving of supporters, nor are they shy of letting their feelings known.
An online poll in pro-Real Madrid newspaper, Marca, singled Ronaldo out as the worst player in the Real Madrid side, which is a bit harsh considering that Fabio Coentrao (€30 million Euros!!! €30 million!!) was also involved in the game.
Ronaldo only scores against Barcelona every 301 minutes while playing for Real Madrid. Is it because he is so obsessed with scoring against Barca? Or is he just intimidated by Leo Messi?
Diario AS points out that while he averages over a goal a game against other teams, Ronaldo only scores against Barcelona every 301 minutes while playing for Real Madrid. Why? Is it because he is so obsessed with scoring against Barca? It is because he is consumed by pride and it gets the better of him? Is it because he’s football’s equivalent of a flat-track bully – great against Betis, but not able to do it when the chips are down? Or is he just intimidated by Leo Messi?
Well it’s good to know that the sports psychologists are able to make money in these troubled times. Patricia Ramirez, who works for Betis (she’s had her work cut out of late given Betis’ recent form) reckons that a player of his ambition will bounce back as soon as possible. (just by chance Madrid’s next league game is against Betis’ hated neighbours, Sevilla). But she admits that there are some sides that you simply feel inferior to (anyone who has watched Atletico Madrid play Real Madrid over the last 10 years will have seen that happen as Atletico are beaten before the game ever kicks off).
But do Madrid feel inferior to Barcelona? Or to put it another way, Do Barca feel superior to Real Madrid? Barca fans certainly do at the moment, but it’s hard to imagine that Madrid’s players feel they are underdogs, despite recent results. After all they did win the Copa del Rey last season AND they won it with a Ronaldo goal: They then pushed Barca hard in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final as Mourinho at last played a positive line up and went on the attack.
Mourinho was again brave on Saturday: none of that ‘lets put Pepe in midfield to splatter em’ mentality from last season, and after that early goal, Madrid were on top until Barca recovered their composure.
And here’s the rub: you need two sides to play football, your destiny is not just in your hands. Pep Guardiola moved his pieces and moved Dani Alves forward 30 yards. Puyol provided cover and Iniesta moved closer to Xavi in the middle with Cesc going wide. Barca got more of the ball and they kept it better, especially after Benzema began to tire and couldn’t track back to keep such close tabs on Xavi. Oh and Barca have someone called Leo Messi, who is quite good as well.
The spaces were constricted on Ronaldo’s side with Marcelo, who usually gets forward so well, unable to do so and Ronaldo was left isolated, especially as Ozil was crowded out. With Benzema sacrificing himself for the team, Ronaldo found himself isolated and as a result opted to go it along rather than to look for companions.
In short, Barcelona did a magnificent job, but to do the job they needed magnificent players and an exceptional coach. As for Madrid, they could still win the league even if they lose again in the Camp Nou, but until then, they will have to remember the Copa del Rey…
More stories about el Clasico...
Click here for more Football and Sport stories
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook