Sunday 22 July 2018

How Cristiano Ronaldo taught Neymar a lesson in how sometimes less is more as Real Madrid beat PSG

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (L) and Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (L) and Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar

Miguel Delaney

This, really, was a case of incision over indulgence; experience over exaggeration.

Because if it's difficult not to bring such a huge - if underwhelming - game at the Bernabeu down to the two biggest stars, it's equally difficult not to notice the significant contrast in performance and effect.

Neymar had spent most of the match trying to do everything but actually producing little. Cristiano Ronaldo had spent most of the match doing little but producing all that actually mattered. The Portuguese got the key equaliser and match-winner in Real Madrid's eventual 3-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain, and thereby got his 100th and 101st Champions League goals for the club. The numbers serve to also symbolise how he has so 100 per cent maximised his talent.

This is something that Neymar can learn from.

One irony is that the Brazilian was the better performer for most of the match. He did more, looked more dangerous, was more involved. While Real defenders badly struggled to even get close to Neymar on some of those runs, Ronaldo struggled to run close to the ball for some of the attacks played up to him.

That did make the European champions look tired and leaden, against the liveliness of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

And this is the thing. Nobody could exactly accuse the Brazilian of shirking responsibility or not stepping up. That was actually some of the problem. He stepped up too much, tried to do too much, with that leading to too many stepovers. There's ultimately far too much fat to Neymar's game, not enough hard edge. A classic case came when the Real half opened up for him and he jinked his way into the box… only to again over-elaborate when the opportunity to shoot presented itself.

There's none of that with Ronaldo, just deadliness. It's got to the point in his career when he's like one of those predators who stays deceptively still until the chance to kill arrives. Then he's never more alive.

The penalty may have been a given but so was the last chance given his class, his experience. How Neymar could do with that kind of focus, the kind of focus that does really elevate players.

Given some of the reports in the build-up to the game, and especially one eye-opening one by the esteemed Diego Torres in El Pais, it's also hard not to bring some of this back to the contrast in preparation and how it is reflected in their game.

How Ronaldo - again - made a mockery of the idea that he is now discardable, that PSG may lose out in the unlikely event they agree to replace Neymar for the Portuguese.

As talk grows about the Brazilian's highly-indulged lifestyle, too, it should again be remembered Ronaldo has worked so hard to enhance every aspect of his game. It is one reason why he still has the energy to do what he did against PSG, even if he no longer has the legs to rampage around the pitch in the way he used to.

Neymar has the talent of one of the best in the world, but doesn't seem to yet act like he really wants to be at that level, as much as he says it. Ronaldo unmistakably wanted to be at that level, and went and made sure it happened.

One is so honed, the other so erratic.

The consolation for Neymar is the tie still isn't finished, and there's nothing that brings focus like anger, like defiance, like the will to rectify something.

The Brazilian and PSG will need every bit of that in three weeks, precisely because Ronaldo maximised everything that came his way on Wednesday night. Less was so much more.

Independent News Service

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