Maurizio Sarri Says Cristiano Ronaldo's Next Step Is 'To Recover the Brilliance'

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistDecember 2, 2019

Juventus' Italian coach Maurizio Sarri (R) looks on as Juventus' Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo runs past during the UEFA Champions League Group D football match Juventus Turin vs Atletico Madrid on November 26, 2019 at the Juventus Allianz stadium in Turin. (Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP) (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)

Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri is expecting Cristiano Ronaldo to regain his former brilliance as he continues his return to fitness following a knee injury.

Ronaldo scored from the penalty spot in Sunday's disappointing 2-2 draw at home to Sassuolo, a result that allowed Inter Milan to go one point clear of the Bianconeri at the summit of Serie A.

Sarri told DAZN (h/t of Peter Hanson Goal) after the game that Ronaldo is getting back to his best: "The feeling is that he has regained strength. He is doing better in the final [moments]. The next step will be to recover the brilliance."

However, the 34-year-old failed to inspire in what was a lacklustre performance by his own standards. Leonardo Bonucci opened the scoring after 20 minutes, but Jeremie Boga equalised two minutes later before Francesco Caputo put Sassuolo in front at the start of the second half. Ronaldo's 68th-minute penalty saw the points shared in Turin, though:

Ronaldo also drew unwanted attention for accidentally blocking team-mate Paulo Dybala's potential winner with the score tied at 2-2 late on.

The veteran has scored seven times and recorded two assists in 16 appearances across all competitions this season, but only four of those goals have come from open play (three penalties).

It's been six weeks since the five-time Ballon d'Or winner scored a goal that didn't come from the 12-yard spot (in a 2-1 win over Bologna on October 19). At his current pace, the former Real Madrid ace won't even match last season's tally of 28 goals in all competitions.

Sportswriter Carlo Garganese remarked upon Ronaldo's decline in form and Juve's recent struggles:

Carlo Garganese @carlogarganese

Juventus 2-2 Sassuolo: That result‘s been coming for well over a month for Juve, who‘ve been average to poor performance-wise for the previous seven games. Juve totally dependent on Dybala right now. Ronaldo is well off the pace despite his first goal since October #JuveSassuolo

It hasn't helped the Italian giants that central defender Matthijs de Ligt has been out of form, too. The Netherlands international gave the ball away for Sassuolo's second goal and has been guilty of similar lapses in recent months.

It wasn't long ago the Bianconeri were considered by many to be the defensive standard in Europe, yet they've kept only seven clean sheets in 18 games since De Ligt arrived and Sarri took over in the summer.

Ronaldo's record at this stage of the season is worse than during his maiden Juventus campaign. He scored 10 goals and recorded five assists in his first 14 Serie A games last term and failed to miss a league game until Week 27—he's already been absent on three occasions in 2019-20.

Sarri said he still hoped Ronaldo would contend for the Ballon d'Or on Monday evening, while he also wished Dybala and De Ligt good fortune in the vote:

Goal @goal

Maurizio Sarri thinks Cristiano Ronaldo will win the Ballon d'Or on Monday 🥇 Will he though? 🤨 https://t.co/0zo3dIzhfU

Juventus face a difficult test when they travel to Lazio in Serie A on Saturday, when Ronaldo will hope to remind the world what he's capable of and fire his side back to the top of the standings.