Cristiano Ronaldo's Return to Health Will Boost Real Madrid Toward La Decima

Gianni VerschuerenFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2014

Real's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring his side's 3rd goal during the Champions League semifinal second leg soccer match between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid at the Allianz Arena in Munich, southern Germany, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Real Madrid fans can breathe a little easier, as it turns out the injury to star winger Cristiano Ronaldo may not have been as severe as some media outlets were initially reporting.

The Portuguese forward was forced to leave the pitch with an apparent hamstring injury just minutes into his team's 1-1 draw against Real Valladolid, and rumours quickly spread he might not make it back in time for the 2014 UEFA Champions League final, played on the 24th of May.

Those rumours were clearly premature however, as Ronaldo returned to training the following day, as reported by The Daily Mail.

Photos of the player holding his left leg during a training session on Tuesday surfaced just minutes after sustaining the injury, as people openly questioned Carlo Ancelotti's decision to risk Ronaldo's health against La Liga minnows Valladolid.

ESPN's Dermot Corrigan even felt the need to speak up on the coach's behalf:

In the end, it would seem little harm was done, as Ronaldo was back to training on Thursday in preparation for the match against Celta Vigo on Sunday, one Ancelotti hoped Ronaldo would be able to play in, via Football_Tweet:

Disaster averted.

But, if Ancelotti is smart, he'll rest his star forward. Real chase city-rivals Atletico Madrid by four points with just two matches to be played in the 2013-14 La Liga season, and unless Atletico lose against Malaga at home, Los Blancos' title bid will effectively be over.

Barcelona, meanwhile, will visit Elche, and if the Blaugrana win that match, the winner of La Liga will be decided in a head-to-head between Barcelona and Atletico on the final match day.

All three top teams slipped up and left points on the table last week, and miraculously enough no one was able to truly take advantage. Neither of these three titans will make the same mistake in consecutive weeks.

Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

Yes, Real still have a mathematical chance at the Spanish title, and they shouldn't just roll over and play dead against Vigo. But there's no need to start Ronaldo, who has been hurt more than he has been healthy in recent weeks.

As tantalising as the prospect of a historic treble must be for Real, the team should have just one trophy on their minds at this point: La Decima.

In recent years, Real have been obsessed with winning their 10th Champions League trophy, one they haven't lifted since 2002. Following their big win over defending champions Bayern Munich in the tournament's semi-finals, Los Blancos are closer to the Old Big Ears than they have been in years.

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

During the first leg of that semi-final, both Ronaldo and Gareth Bale were less than 100 percent, and Real adjusted accordingly. They played a beautiful game of organised football and countered with lethal precision, leading to a one-goal win.

The return match was quite different, however. With both stars healthy and starting, Real ran all over the Bavarians on their way to a comfortable 4-0 win, with Ronaldo scoring twice.

The team's third goal was a testament to Real's sensational athleticism, and the way the squad has been built: A lightning-fast counter in just a handful of stages, and a finish from the team's most gifted scorer, Ronaldo.

Bale's pure speed was vital in that goal, and while it may have taken some time, the Welshman and his Portuguese partner on the other wing are finally starting to build the kind of chemistry that could make their partnership unstoppable.

The difference between both legs was visible, and while Los Blancos are still a formidable team without their star winger, Ronaldo's presence makes them as close to unstoppable as any team in world football.

The Portuguese may have avoided disaster against Valladolid, as his injury could have been far worse, and with an eye on the Champions League final, Real should learn from the experience and keep him healthy.

With Ronaldo at 100 percent and in the starting XI against Atletico, Real should be the favourites going into that match. With 40 goals to his name this season, per, there isn't a single player in the world able to match his scoring record.

Atletico field one of the world's best defensive units, one that has conceded just twice in the last eight matches, per WhoScored. But against a Real Madrid team led by a fully healthy Ronaldo, it might not even matter.

2014 could be the year for Los Blancos to do something they've been waiting to do since 2002—lift their 10th Champions League trophy as the single greatest club in the competition's history.

And led by the mercurial Ronaldo, you have to like their chances of doing just that.