Cristiano Ronaldo Fit to Pounce on Bayern Munich's Struggling Defence

Paul Wilkes@@paulwilkesfootyFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2014


The first leg of Real Madrid's Champions League semi-final at the Bernabeu against Bayern Munich saw a performance of a different kind from Cristiano Ronaldo.

There were still the regular shots from distance and from almost every perceivable angle. He still had a presence that made the Bayern Munich centre-backs look even more vulnerable than they already are when isolated in a one-against-one situation.

But there was less explosive prowess, and gone were the full-blown sprints at the opposing defence. To an extent, that was to be expected, as the forward had missed his last four matches through injury. He was also operating as a striker alongside Karim Benzema in a 4-4-2 formation, where the other side dominated possession.

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 23: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid takes on Jerome Boateng of Bayern Muenchen during the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg match between Real Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 23, 2014
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

There was no tireless running to close down defenders or positioning himself so that he could take on his marker. He never attempted a single run at the opposition.

In comparison, in his last game before that against Borussia Dortmund, he completed four out of six runs at the German side, via FourFourTwo's Stats Zone. This, of course, happened while he was playing in a different position—on the left of a 4-3-3—and his team naturally had more of the ball, but it was still a stark contrast.

Against Bayern, Ronaldo was performing a role for his team whilst simultaneously feeling his way back to full fitness. Former Manchester United teammate Gary Neville remarked in his Daily Mail column:

I'll never forget coming in training one day when the session was eight hard runs but, for the last two, he seemed to be taking it easy.

He simply said: "Too much water kills the plant." Even today I remember those words. I'd always been brought up to believe that every single minute of every day was a fight and that you had to battle continuously, even in training.

But though he would work hard, he would train with efficiency. If there were eight runs and he'd done six well but felt that was enough, he'd do two at his own pace. He knew his own body.

This was another example of the Portuguese maestro knowing what he could or couldn't do. His pass to Fabio Coentrao that led to the left-back's winning assist was further evidence of this. It's normally Ronaldo latching onto the end of the through ball.

"I didn’t force anything. I feel good," he told reporters in the mixed zone after the match. "Some people didn’t want me to play but I did and nothing happened."

That appeared to be a slight on the Real Madrid medical staff, rather than anything directed toward coach Carlo Ancelotti.

"I was a little bit worried because it was my first match after three weeks but I didn’t feel any discomfort," he said. "I’ll be in perfect condition for the next games."

That certainly looks to be the case, if his two goals against Osasuna on the weekend are any indication. They appear to have confirmed he is firing on all cylinders once more. On both occasions, he was cutting in from the left-hand side onto his favoured right foot and striking the ball with plenty of venom.

That's not to say he should necessarily be deployed on the left in Munich. Ronaldo tends to roam into the best possible places to receive the ball, regardless of his fixed abode.

The Ballon d'Or winner has 13 goals in his last 11 appearances since he was sent off against Athletic Bilbao on February 2, via AS. It's a remarkable period given how that's been disrupted by injury.

It doesn't make particularly good reading for Pep Guardiola, especially with his defence not currently playing at its best.

The Spanish manager knows that Los Blancos will be even better on the counter-attack with a one-goal lead and with a fully fit Ronaldo. Also, his team has conceded three times the amount of goals since clinching the Bundesliga title on March 25, via David F. Sanchidrian of AS.

With Bayern's defensive woes and Ronaldo returning to his very best, the quest for La Decima might move a step closer.