Fluent but Flawed Real Madrid Riding Cristiano Ronaldo's Big Moments to Glory

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterApril 4, 2018

TURIN, ITALY - APRIL 03: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final, first leg match between Juventus and Real Madrid at Juventus Stadium on April 3, 2018 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images)
Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo and Champions League knockout football: they go together like bacon and eggs, cheese and wine, chips and dip. It's an iconic pairing that brings out the best in both, delivering scintillating performances on the biggest stages and moments that will burn themselves into your memory.

For football fans, Tuesday simply brought more of what we have all come to expect: Ronaldo netted a brace, inclusive of a jaw-dropping overhead kick, as Real Madrid waltzed into the Juventus Stadium and had their way with the Italian champions.

To do what they did, at the home of Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini, was absurd, unheard of and almost heinous.

The 3-0 scoreline flattered Juventus; it could easily have been five, possibly six. Given Ronaldo missed two further good chances and both Toni Kroos and Mateo Kovacic struck the crossbar, that's a difficult sentiment to oppose.

And yet for a 30-minute spell in the first half, plus early patches of the second, the Old Lady were right in the game. Gonzalo Higuain saw a powerful header expertly saved at 1-0, and Paulo Dybala's influence slowly began to grow, with the Argentinian wriggling into pockets of space and turning on the ball well. Douglas Costa offered flashes, too.

It was only expert one-on-one defending in high-risk areas that kept Real Madrid's clean sheet early on.

Sergio Ramos produced a masterful blend of aggressive interceptions and towering headers that prevented all hell from breaking loose at times. Raphael Varane's recovery speed thwarted every attempt to play Alex Sandro and Higuain into space behind the defence.

TURIN, ITALY - APRIL 03: Isco of Real Madrid in action during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final, first leg match between Juventus and Real Madrid at Juventus Stadium on April 3, 2018 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images)
Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

This was neither a floor-wiping exercise nor a canter. In both halves, the balance of the game temporarily teetered towards Juventus, but the scales never fully tipped.

The 4-4-2 diamond formation Zinedine Zidane deployed extracted the best from his key attacking players—Ronaldo and Isco—and allowed Marcelo to fly forward and overload the left flank.

The fluidity of movement, from Kroos' interpretive positioning to Karim Benzema's decoy runs, was just as breathtaking as it was in Cardiff, Wales, in June, when these two met in the 2017 final.

However, the flipside of this is that it leaves the defence exposed, with each man in too much space for comfort, and the midfield can be bypassed with one ball through.

Asking your centre-backs to perform in such an aggressive stance leaves a large margin for error, and in the second half it crept in. Ramos was booked for fouling Dybala and is suspended for the second leg, while Varane gifted Higuain a good opportunity to pull one back.

This style is, for the most part, unsustainable—unless you have a player such as Ronaldo at the other end.

His rise to form in 2018 has naturally coincided with a spike in Real Madrid's. As he has found his groove in front of goal, their point intake has risen sharply.

The correlation between these two things is obvious—scoring more enhances your chances of winning games—but it's more than that. Los Blancos' wide-open style, often lacking in true defensive structure, runs the risk of being completely exposed if the forwards don't finish their chances.

This is why Ronaldo's rise to form has changed so much. His pre-Christmas effort wasn't bad by usual standards—16 goals in 22 matches—but some big misses and some terrible afternoons in front of goal cost his club.

Real Madrid went scoreless in four games during this period—against Real Betis, Atletico Madrid, Athletic Club Bilbao and Barcelona—and Ronaldo took 30 shots combined against them, 12 coming against Betis alone.

If you want to get picky, seven of those 16 goals came against APOEL Nicosia, in the Club World Cup or in the Spanish Super Cup. Undeniably, he didn't pull his weight at times, and it made Los Blancos' rash, risky defending and lack of defensive structure all the more apparent—and at times genuinely punishing.

TURIN, ITALY - APRIL 03: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final, first leg match between Juventus and Real Madrid at Juventus Stadium on April 3, 2018 in Turin, Italy.  (Ph
Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

Post-Christmas, Ronaldo has scored 24 goals, beating his pre-December 25 output comfortably despite playing fewer games. In that same time, Real Madrid have conceded 23.

The Portugal international has literally outscored his team's opponents on his own. And while that's a statistic to ogle at, it can't be forgotten that is what's required for Zidane's men to win.

Fluid but deeply flawed, Real Madrid excite because they resemble footballing chaos at times. They ignore the laws of balance; prioritising attacking football and opting to outscore opponents rather than outmanoeuvre them. In that way, they are at total odds with archrivals Barcelona, who have sacrificed plenty in attack to become extremely difficult to beat.

Ronaldo is their panacea—a fix-all solution that justifies their openness, riskiness and lack of structure. The worrying thing for everyone else is that his appetite for executing on the biggest stages shows no sign of abating.

               

Facebook.com/SamTigheBR

All statistics via WhoScored.com

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