Monday 24 April 2017

Time for Cristiano Ronaldo to stop taking free kicks - Five things we learned from the Bernabeu

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 13: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid takes a free kick during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final, second leg match between Real Madrid and Juventus at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 13, 2015 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 13: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid takes a free kick during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final, second leg match between Real Madrid and Juventus at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 13, 2015 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during the Champions League second leg sem-ifinalmatch between Real Madrid and Juventus

JJ Bull

Gareth Bale is burdened by expectation, team triumphs over individuals every time and Cristiano Ronaldo needs to give up free kicks

Gareth Bale is a victim of his own success

A tap-in from barely 10 yards fizzed wide of Gianluigi's Buffon’s post, a header from even closer whistled over the bar. Each time Gareth Bale put his heads in his hands in dismay. Real Madrid did the same and sighed.

Bale looked desperate to get involved in the game throughout. As countless players in the past have discovered, sometimes things just don’t go your way and inches are what separated Bale from being a match winner and having had a disappointing game.

The level of expectation for Bale makes it near impossible for him to surpass them. He can never be that jack in the box surprise he has been in the past because precisely because we now know what he can do. With players like Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the team you can be forgiven for not being the standout performer on the pitch every week. But time and again on Wednesday night Bale over-ran the ball and proved nowhere near as effective as we know he can be.

Read more: Video: Gareth Bale abused by Real Madrid fans following Champions League exit

Every narrow miss or heavy touch which could so easily have pushed him past a defender makes Bale work even harder to make it happen the next time.

That hard work might be appreciated, but Bale needs to play his natural game to really blossom. While he keeps missing chances, he’ll never get the chance; the pressure of expectation is hurting his game. These are the perils of being good enough for the mighty Real Madrid.


Individuals don’t make a great team

On paper Real Madrid make an incredible team. In fact, on any number of different surfaces, devices or stationary, if you wrote down the Real starting XI people would nod approvingly and say “yeh that’s really, really good”. But they’re not playing on paper, Geoff. They’re playing on a football pitch where the team is boss and individuals as forgettable as Vladimir Smicer have been champions.

Juventus’ team has the same strong spine of stars as Real - Buffon, Chiellini, Pogba and Tevez vs Casillas, Ramos, James and Ronaldo - but the sum of all its parts is its real strength. Juve walked Serie A this season and they did it with players like Morata, deemed surplus to requirements at Madrid despite their desperate desire for footballers from their academies to shine, Patrice Evra, who seemed to have peaked a few years ago and the real secret gem of the side: Claudio Marchisio.

While Real aren’t as perfectly balanced as a team of Galacticos would hope to be, Juventus are a team of real quality who play as a team. Pogba is the big name and although he made several mistakes on Wednesday night, he is comfortably one of the best midfielders in the world. Having the experience of Pirlo beside is massively beneficial to any team but it is Marchisio who brings out and allows the best of each player to shine through.


Cristiano Ronaldo is simply fantastic to watch

Before the match began Jeff Stelling suggested that Ronaldo wasn’t at his “absolute peak”, as though anything below 100 per cent wasn’t still incredibly good. The intensity with which Ronaldo works in every game is evident for all to see. The emotion and frustration pours out of him if he doesn’t deliver perfection each time. Thierry Henry pointed out that without Lionel Messi, Ronaldo may well have won the last eight Ballons d’Or.

Xavi and Andres Iniesta might have something to say about that, but on pure attacking threat alone, Henry’s comments on Ronaldo are as true now as they would have been at any point in the last eight seasons.

For a lot of this season Ronaldo has acted as the number 9 and in doing so has been one of the most ruthless and effective performers of this role the game has ever seen, as his scoring record suggests. The real joy in watching Ronaldo though doesn’t come from the tap-ins or the Million Dollar Man, Space Jam-esque salmon leaps. It’s the drive and intensity he puts into his football.

While running at Juventus on the wings Ronaldo looked as brilliant as ever. The Italians had to push forward once Ronaldo scored his penalty and this opened up the game, allowing lightning fast attacks by Real. Watching Ronaldo pick the ball out of the air, surge past his marker and take players out of the game with a single turn is without doubt one of the greatest sights in world football.


...but he needs to stop taking free kicks

The referee blew his whistle for a foul 25 yards from the goal and the Real Madrid players assumed their usual positions. Ronaldo puffed out his chest, stood directly behind the goal and prepared to shoot. And, as usual, the ball didn’t end up in the back of the net.

Though his effort took a deflection off the Juventus wall and looped onto the roof of the net, it was the exact same outcome anyone who has watched Ronaldo take free kicks over the last few seasons has come to expect. He may well have scored four goals over the previous two seasons in La Liga from free kicks but the figures suggest this is almost thanks to the law of averages and pure persistence. Statistically Gareth Bale is actually more accurate and deadly from set pieces.


Subdued celebrations need to end. Immediately.

Alvaro Morata scored a Champions League semi-winning goal and celebrated with all the passion of a sad potato. Immediately surrounded by his delighted team-mates who jumped for joy, ex-Madrid striker Morata remained straight faced and refused to enjoy the moment, a moment many would have loved to have been theirs.

It might be interesting to try and explain to the thousands of travelling Juventus fans, who almost certainly spent quite a lot of money following their team to Spain, in the middle of the week, why he wasn’t quite so pleased about it.

Whether this subdued reaction was through fear of the anger and retribution of the very vocal Real Madrid support, or because he just loves the club so much, it must end. Surely the best way to pay tribute to a football club you respect is as Pep Guardiola did against Barcelona - to whom he is practically a god - and give your all for the team you are part of.

If your ex leaves you and you get a new partner, you’re allowed to love them too.

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