Cristiano Ronaldo's reinvention at Real Madrid could mean bother for Bayern Munich

Ronaldo celebrates scoring the last-gasp penalty that got Real Madrid into the semifinals
Updated 24 April 2018
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Cristiano Ronaldo's reinvention at Real Madrid could mean bother for Bayern Munich

  • The most common fixture in European football: Bayern take on Real for the 25th time
  • Ronaldo is in fine form heading into the last-four clash.

LONDON: Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Cristiano Ronaldo’s career is how he has reinvented himself.
It is not just that he has reduced his effective playing area each season, transitioning from fast dribbling winger to souped-up target-man, it is that in doing so he has made himself a more effective player — and that is what must trouble Bayern Munich, who have in the past exposed his flaws, before today’s Champions League semifinal.
Ronaldo was always a flawed genius. He had immense dedication and turned himself into the physical embodiment of the ideal player, powerful and quick. He could beat opponents for skill but he could also beat them for strength. And yet there was always a sense that the game was about him and not about the team.
If he was chasing the golden boot, he would shoot from ludicrous positions rather than passing to better-placed teammates. After Manchester United had beaten Chelsea in the Champions League final in 2008, despite Ronaldo missing a penalty in the shootout, he sat alone in tears as the rest of the side celebrated in front of the United fans. Similarly, his celebrations after scoring the penalty that gave Real Madrid a 4-1 lead in the 120th minute of the 2014 final seemed excessive for a goal that meant almost nothing.
But worse was his neglect of his defensive duties. That was why Sir Alex Ferguson began using him as a central striker in the 2007-08 season, realizing that Wayne Rooney would be far more diligent in tracking the opposing full-back. The Champions League semifinal in 2012 was a perfect illustration of the problem. Ronaldo set up Mesut Ozil’s goal as Madrid lost 2-1 in Munich and then scored twice early on at the Bernabeu in the second leg. But it was his failure to check the forward surges of Philipp Lahm from full-back that ended up costing Madrid the game.
The same self-obsession that had made him such a great physical and technical player was also what made him a tactical problem. It is why, until very recently, he had won relatively little. This is his ninth season in Spain, playing for one of the two richest clubs in the world, yet he has won only two Spanish league titles.
His conversion into a central striker, while it may make Madrid a little more predictable, has also made them a better-balanced side.
There is no danger now of the opposing full-back having the run of the flank. Few full-backs had the chutzpah to call Ronaldo’s bluff and drive past him, risking leaving him untended. No center-back will and, even if they do, a player moving into central midfield where there are more bodies is less likely to pose a threat than a full-back advancing into the space that more naturally occurs on the flank.
And Ronaldo’s finishing, particularly in big games, has been remarkable. He has scored six goals in four games in the knockout stage so far this season — including that overhead kick against Juventus — to go with 10 in the knockout stage last season and five the season before.
He is now a player of a type the world has perhaps never seen before: A combination of poacher and target-man all mediated through the technical ability that initially made him stand out as a winger. His involvement in games is often minimal, until he scores the goal that turns the tie. It is not something every side could get away with, but Madrid have enough in midfield that they can carry a player who gives them such cutting edge — provided he plays centrally. And Bayern will doubtless be all too aware of that.
 


KEY CLASH

ARJEN ROBBEN vs MARCELO

Just because Cristiano Ronaldo no longer plays on the flank doesn’t mean that a winger vs. full-back battle will not still be key. Arjen Robben may be 34, but he remains the most dangerous creative player Bayern have. Defenders may know he is going to cut inside onto his left foot and shoot but they still seem unable to stop him. That means that Marcelo, particularly in the first leg in Munich, is likely to be tested — and for all his many, many qualities as an attacking full-back there have always been questions about his defensive caliber. Similarly, if Madrid can gain a foothold in midfield, Marcelo’s surges past Robben — and the Brazilian will surely have the edge for pace — could be a potent attacking outlet for Madrid.


LIVE: Brazil v. Argentina in Saudi Arabia

Updated 8 min 11 sec ago
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LIVE: Brazil v. Argentina in Saudi Arabia

90+2 MINUTES: GOAL - BRAZIL 1 ARGENTINA 0 - Miranda heads in ahead of Sergio Romero in the Argentina goal and gives Brazil a late, late winner! Brazil will win the Superclasico Cup here in Jeddah.

85 MINUTES: The game has definitely dropped in intensity, with both teams seem content for this to go beyond 90 minutes. We're in for a tense last few minutes...

71 MINUTES: CLOSE - Arthur has just had the best chace of the game, his powerful volley from a Neymar cross was directed under the crossbar with incredible power, but Sergio Romero in the Argentina goal makes an astonishing save. Definitely saw it late - stunner.

67 MINUTES: The attendance tonight looks very healthy, and some of the fans have even been letting off flares. Gives the stadium a bit of a South American feel, which will please the Brazilian and Argentine players.

The attendance tonight looks very healthy, and some of the fans have even been letting off flares. Gives the stadium a bit of a South American feel, which will please the Brazilian and Argentine players. (Reuters)

65 MINUTES: We've had a few substitutions here in Jeddah, with Dybala going off and Lautaro Martinez coming on for Argentina, with Richarlison replacing Gabriel Jesus for Brazil. Meanwhile, Neymar gets a yellow card - it matches his ridiculous haircut.

50 MINUTES: We're back out for the second half and we've got a stoppage in play here for a Danilo Silva injury, but Argentina have come out much better in this second half creating two decent chances and forcing a corner. Much better from the Argentines.

HALFTIME: BRAZIL 0 - ARGENTINA 0 - Brazil have forced more of the game, but both teams have been cagey in this first half. Let's hope they step it up in the second half to give the big crowd in attendance something to cheer about.

Neymar warming up in Jeddah before the Brazil v. Argentina clash. (AFP)

43 MINUTES: Brazil win a free kick in a very promising situation, and it looks perfect for a Neymar special. But the oddly-coiffeured Brazilian steps up and sends the free kick straight into the wall. A wasted opportunity.

35 MINUTES: A lull in the action, but the fans are making themselves heard, and the ground appears to be fully behind the Samba boys.

The fans are making themselves heard, and the ground appears to be fully behind the Samba boys. (Reuters)

31 MINUTES: CLOSE - Argentina's Paulo Dybala hits the ball in from a mid-range free kick, but the effort goes just wide of the right post.

29 MINUTES: HOW HAS HE NOT SCORED? Miranda gathers a nice lofted pass deep inside the Argentina box and attempts to put the ball low into the middle of the goal, but somehow his shot is kept out by a host of defending players.

20 MINUTES: There's a glimpse of the rivalry between these two nations, Brazil's Danilo commits a rough challenge and it's a free kick to Argentina. No love lost here.

15 MINUTES: Brazil are having the better of this game, with nearly two-thirds of possession and are looking the more dangerous here in Jeddah.

Saudi Arabia is playing host to two giants of football, Argentina and Brazil on Tuesday evening. (Reuters)

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is playing host to two giants of football, Argentina and Brazil on Tuesday evening. 

Argentina thumped a hapless Iraq 4-0 with a dominant display as Lautaro Martinez on Friday, Roberto Pereyra, German Pezzella and Franco Cervi all beat Iraqi goalkeeper Jalal Hassan to ensure a resounding victory. While Brazil had a comfortable 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia last week.

Fans make a stunning tifo at the Jeddah stadium containing the Brazilian and Argentinian flags ahead of their clash in Saudi Arabia. (General Sports Authority)