Real Madrid may be on course for a trophyless campaign, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s four-goal salvo against Celta Vigo on Saturday thrust him to the forefront of the race for the European Golden Shoe.
The Portuguese has 27 Primera Division goals for the 2015-16 season, one more than Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain and Benfica hitman Jonas. Indeed, the top 10 is beginning to read like a list of the finest goalscorers on the continent, with Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also in the race.
Here is how the standings are shaping up following another absorbing weekend of football in Europe and a recap of some of the highlights from the players in the hunt for this coveted accolade.
|European Golden Shoe 2015-16: March 7|
|Position||Player||Team||Goals x Factor||Overall|
|1.||Cristiano Ronaldo||Real Madrid||27 x 2.0||54.0|
|T2.||Luis Suarez||Barcelona||26 x 2.0||52.0|
|T2.||Gonzalo Higuain||Napoli||26 x 2.0||52.0|
|T2.||Jonas||Benfica||26 x 2.0||52.0|
|5.||Robert Lewandowski||Bayern Munich||23 x 2.0||46.0|
|T6.||Lionel Messi||Barcelona||21 x 2.0||42.0|
|T6.||Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang||Borussia Dortmund||21 x 2.0||42.0|
|8.||Eran Zahavi||Maccabi Tel Aviv||26 x 1.5||39.0|
|T9.||Jamie Vardy||Leicester City||19 x 2.0||38.0|
|T9.||Karim Benzema||Real Madrid||19 x 2.0||38.0|
Rules: Every league is given a difficulty factor (between one and two), which is multiplied by a player's goal tally to determine his overall score.
For example, La Liga is attributed a constant of two, so Ronaldo's 27 goals are doubled to make 54, whereas Zlatan Ibrahimovic's are multiplied by 1.5, as that is Ligue 1's grade.
Ronaldo Hits the Front
In a season in which Ronaldo has drawn plenty of criticism for some of his showings, it’s rather remarkable the Portuguese finds himself in a position to retain this prize.
One thing you certainly can’t accuse the forward of is not putting poor defensive outfits to the sword. Celta were a rabble at the back at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday; couple that disorganisation and Ronaldo’s insatiable search for goals, and it was always going to be a long afternoon for the Galicians.
Here is a reminder of Ronaldo's brilliant display:
As we can see here, courtesy of ESPN FC, Celta and Espanyol have both been ruthlessly exposed by the predatory instincts of the Portuguese this term:
ESPN FC @ESPNFC
Cristiano Ronaldo has hit 48% of his 27 La Liga goals against two teams: Espanyol - 8 Celta Vigo - 5 https://t.co/vze1C1USsj2016-3-6 10:30:16
Of course, Ronaldo would rather his goals were coming across a wider spread and in games when Real are playing superior opposition. But it’s hard not to marvel at the goalscoring talents of the 31-year-old, who is in pole position to win this award for what’d be an incredible fifth time.
There are plenty of classy operators in hot pursuit, though. Suarez netted again for Barcelona in a 4-0 win over Eibar on Sunday, giving him 26 in La Liga. What’s been so impressive about the Uruguayan in 2015-16 is the different kind of goals he scores; as the Telegraph’s Sam Wallace noted, his latest strike was all about brute power:
Sam Wallace @SamWallaceTel
The strength of Luis Suarez for Barca's 4th goal: first a nutmeg then covering defender comes in to barge him off the ball ... & bounces off2016-3-6 21:45:48
Higuain continued his free-scoring ways too, netting his 26th of the campaign in Saturday's 3-1 win over Chievo, keeping Napoli in touch with Juventus at the top of Serie A.
Here is the goal, a typical poacher’s finish, courtesy of BT Sport’s James Horncastle, who noted the Argentina man is on course for the most goals ever netted in a single season in Italian football’s top flight (35):
James Horncastle @JamesHorncastle
Higuain’s 26th league goal on the season. 10 games to break Nordahl’s Serie A record of 35 https://t.co/o6WX3oH96a @btsportfootball2016-3-5 22:21:39
They’re both level with Benfica’s Jonas, who didn’t score in his side's Lisbon derby triumph over Sporting Club. But Ronaldo shouldn’t just be worried about this trio as he seeks to clinch the honour.
Indeed, despite missing two months of the season with an injury, Messi is beginning to find his goalscoring groove, adding another two in the win over Eibar. That puts him on 21 goals for the campaign, six behind Ronaldo, with his masterful forward play aiding Barcelona in preserving their eight-point lead at the top of La Liga.
As Squawka noted, the 28-year-old has showcased a remarkable standard of consistency during his time with the Blaugrana:
Squawka Football @Squawka
Lionel Messi became the first player to score 20+ goals in 8 successive La Liga seasons today. Another record ✓ https://t.co/FaTE6D07Vc2016-3-6 19:52:17
Barca’s revered attacking trident of him, Suarez and Neymar has totted up some staggering goalscoring numbers this term, per the UEFA Champions League Twitter feed:
Champions League @ChampionsLeague
Barcelona have scored 132 goals this season. Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez & Neymar have now registered 100. #UCL https://t.co/BntumANHuM2016-3-6 16:52:35
Ronaldo’s potency is unlikely to count for much for Real, who trail their great rivals by 12 points in the title race. But if he can settle into the devastating rhythm we’ve seen so often down the years, manager Zinedine Zidane will be hopeful it’s form he can carry into the Champions League, a competition in which Los Blancos still have a shot at glory.
Messi will push Ronaldo hard for the Golden Shoe. The pint-sized genius continues to thrill in the final third, and while he’s accompanied by two other world-class talents, he’s the attacking fulcrum of his side. That role, coupled with his immense talent, will inevitably lead to a lot more goals being scored before the season is done.