One season after ending Barcelona's reign atop La Liga, Real Madrid currently sit in third place, 11 points off Barca's pace. Cristiano Ronaldo knows that's not acceptable. The onus falls on him to ensure Madrid's poor run of form comes to an end soon.
The club's struggles were magnified by a 1-0 loss to Real Betis last weekend. Madrid won the two meetings last season by a combined score of 7-3. On Saturday, they weren't even able to muster a single goal despite controlling the run of play.
Ronaldo doesn't deserve all the blame for his team's inconsistent form, but his lack of production over the past couple weeks has definitely played a role. The dynamic striker has found the net just once in his last six appearances.
He's had a tendency throughout his career, at both the club and international levels, to take a step back when his team is struggling. His patented aggressiveness tends to fade, and his stats during his recent cold spell illustrate that.
In reality, these are the times when Ronaldo should be more selfish and aggressive than ever. Madrid need somebody to take the bull by the horns and lead the way. They have too much talent to use such a passive approach.
They need a spark. They need a leader to show the way, jump-starting a run to get them back in the La Liga title race before it's too late. Ronaldo is the player to make it happen.
Looking at the squad, it's clear they have what it takes to go on an extended run. Not just draws or narrow victories over inferior opponents, but a dominant stretch that would put them right back on pace with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Every run starts with a single match. Ronaldo and Co. have a golden opportunity to turn the tide back in their favor on Saturday when they take on Atletico at Santiago Bernabeu. It's the perfect turning-point match for the Blancos.
Ronaldo must step up from the opening whistle. He needs to outshine Radamel Falcao, turn his aggressiveness to the max and make sure Madrid walk away with all three points. He can't sit back and hope somebody else does it.
Anything less and Ronaldo will deserve every bit of criticism he will undoubtedly receive after the match. It's a crucial match because Madrid can't afford to lag behind for much long and remain a legitimate contender for back-to-back titles.
Now's the time for Ronaldo to put the team on his back.