The Portuguese forward has been out with a domestic ban, but was back to prove how important he is as he shot Real past APOEL in the Champions League
Cristiano Ronaldo has been itching to return. The Portuguese forward has been sidelined in La Liga after receiving a red card and pushing the referee in the Clasico clash away to Barcelona last month, but he was back on Wednesday to show Real Madrid just what they have been missing in his absence.
The 32-year-old has been in court this week as his tax fraud case continues and he was caught on camera at one point mouthing “God, what am I doing here?” His ban means he has also been unable to take out his frustrations on the football pitch.
While he has been out, Madrid have struggled somewhat. Zinedine Zidane’s side were fine without him initially, beating Barcelona 2-0 in the second leg of the Spanish Supercopa and then winning 3-0 in their opening league game away to Deportivo La Coruna. But back-to-back draws against Valencia and Levante at home have highlighted a lack of firepower in the team when Ronaldo is missing.
Karim Benzema missed four excellent opportunities against Valencia and limped off with an injury versus Levante on Saturday, while Gareth Bale has also been guilty of squandering some clear chances and revealed at the weekend that he had been playing with the aid of painkillers.
In the meantime, Marco Asensio scored two super strikes in the 2-2 tie with Valencia, but he was less effective against an ultra-defensive Levante on Saturday as Madrid managed to score just once against the promoted team – a close-range effort from Lucas Vazquez.
Failure to replace Alvaro Morata in the summer looks like a mistake from Madrid’s part and Zidane admitted on Tuesday: “Maybe we could do with another number 9, but it wasn’t to be in the end. Morata wanted to play more, he wanted to leave. We weren’t able to bring in another player, but I believe in [Borja] Mayoral and we also have Gareth. It’s true that he plays more on the wing, but we’ll make do.”
Those words were not convincing, but when you can call upon a player who has scored more than 400 goals for the club at a rate of just over one per game, the situation is much less dramatic than it would be otherwise.
Ronaldo returned on Wednesday and, naturally, he was back among the goals. The Portuguese, who still has to serve one match of his domestic ban and will therefore miss the tough trip to Real Sociedad on Sunday night, netted the opener at the back post as he slotted home from a Bale pass in an otherwise forgettable first half.
Ronaldo thought he had scored a second when a fierce drive bounced off the crossbar and onto the goal line early in the second half, but did net another from the penalty spot following a dubious decision by the referee not long after that.
After another spot-kick shout, Ronaldo had the ball in the back of the net again moments later, but he had been marginally offside when the pass was played through and, with five minutes remaining, he was again denied by the assistant’s flag.
In between those two incidents, Sergio Ramos added another and it was a comfortable night for Madrid in the end as they began the defence of the Champions League crown they won in Cardiff last season with a victory and kicked off their pursuit of a third consecutive title in European football’s premier club competition.
En route to the trophy last term, Ronaldo scored 10 times against Atletico, Bayern Munich and Juventus in the quarter-finals, semi-final and final. His hunger, appetite and ambition give Madrid’s attack another dimension and, against APOEL, he showed he is as important now as he was then. How he has been missed.