Football, News 2018-03-02 5:43 AM

Real Madrid recently enjoyed their longest winning streak of the season with five in a row.


It came to a screeching halt against Espanyol on Tuesday night, however, with a monotonous display that resulted in a last-minute winner off the boot of Gerard Moreno that saw Real lose 1-0.

Zinedine Zidane rested Cristiano Ronaldo for the game with an eye on Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League second leg next week, but all it did was serve as a reminder as to how important their No. 7 is and how late-career Ronaldo could be the answer to Real Madrid’s issue at centre-forward.

Ronaldo is fond of dropping hints through the media about what he wants and in January a source close to the attacker suggested he wanted out of the Bernabeu due to procrastination over a new deal with the club. That campaign for a new contract might have seemed ill-advised at the time, but Ronaldo is proving to be Real Madrid’s one constant in a season filled with uncertainty. And while the noise over that deal has quieted, it hasn’t gone away and Ronaldo is proving his worth to Real Madrid more than ever in recent weeks.

In Ronaldo’s 13 absences this season, Real Madrid have failed to win in six of them including four draws and two losses, which is a 46 percent strikeout rate when their main man doesn’t feature. Last summer, Real Madrid raised eyebrows by failing to up the ante in the transfer market with their most expensive outlay being €30 million on Theo Hernandez. They spent money on only one other player, paying a modest €16.5 million for Dani Ceballos. Their plan to inject the squad with ambitious young players has failed to materialise because, as we saw on Tuesday, the system collapses when Ronaldo is not in the team.

On Saturday against Alaves, Ronaldo showed his more compassionate side by giving Karim Benzema a late penalty when he was on a hat trick in an unprecedented move. Ronaldo still has his own interests at heart but is becoming more aware of his mortality and need to make sure his supporting cast is in good form in order to let him shine the brightest in the bigger games.

“I still have hope and strength to battle to win it [Ballon d’Or] again,” he said after the Alaves game. “It will depend on the trophies we win this year.”

He clearly realises that regardless of how many goals you score, you need to win trophies and you need a team to win trophies. That change of attitude might see him change his mind about being a striker too.

“People think I am a striker,” Ronaldo said in an interview last summer. “I will never be a striker. I have scored almost 600 goals from the position I play in, so why change.”

But Ronaldo might be starting to see the advantages of playing at No. 9 and can sense a massive window of opportunity as Real Madrid look ready to go on a mission this summer to find a new one.

When Ronaldo’s agents do sit down with the Real Madrid board, they can produce the Espanyol game as evidence of his importance. Zidane rolled out an experimental mix of players that included Gareth Bale at nine along with Marco Asensio, Isco and Lucas Vazquez adding to the attack, with the end result of so much creativity and directness being a complete lack of both.

If they do tie Ronaldo down, it will give them more leverage when they are negotiating in the summer transfer market too. With seemingly fewer options other than Harry Kane, who is said to be a very difficult acquisition, and Robert Lewandowski, who turns 30 in August, Florentino Pérez’s options are limited and any potential selling team will be aware of that.

With Ronaldo locked down, happy and with no doubt over his future, it means Real Madrid can walk away from such talks and invest elsewhere, or at least bluff their way to a more favorable deal for a new striker. If Ronaldo continues clamoring for a pay rise, it weakens their position and makes their platform to start negotiations unstable at best.

The Champions League tends to transform Real Madrid, as we saw against PSG in their first encounter. The second leg is on the horizon now and it looks like it will be lacking in star power with Neymar out along with the increasingly probable absences of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric along with the recent injury scare for Kylian Mbappe. You can expect Ronaldo to further quell speculation that he is a declining force by being the deciding factor in that game too.

Real Madrid are entering a period of uncertainty after a dismal league title defense and some bewildering form in other competitions, but what is clearer than ever is that their plans continue to revolve around Cristiano Ronaldo.



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