Only Cristiano Ronaldo's extraordinary abilities can win Real Madrid 'La Decima'
Be it the season of Real Madrid or the impact of Ancelotti at Santiago Bernabeu, everything will be judged on Saturday when the Decima dreamers take on newly crowned Liga champions in the Champions League final. After earning a spot in the final of this prestigious tournament after more than a decade, Real Madrid will be more motivated than ever to take home the trophy and in the process realize their Decima dream.
Madrid's run up to the final of the Champions League has been impressive which includes some dazzling performances like 9-1 thrashing of Schalke on aggregate in the round of 16 and an emphatic 5-0 aggregate win against defending champions Bayern Munich. But Carlo Ancelotti knows this is never going to be a similar task. Winning a Champions League final is never easy, and with this Atletico Madrid team as opponents, it is going to be even more difficult.
In a match of this magnitude, the importance of Real Madrid's talisman Cristiano Ronaldo for their chances cannot be emphasized enough. But it is interesting to note how certain qualities of Ronaldo like jumping and heading, poaching, acrobatic and long range goal scoring ability are key to Real Madrid's success on Saturday. Like any other team, Real Madrid always found it difficult to play against intense and deep lying compact defenses. Dropping points in the domestic campaign against the likes of Sevilla and Real Valladoid is due to this very discomfort of Los Blancos.
Sandwiched between the outstanding wins against Schalke and Bayern Munich, Real Madrid faced a tough task in overcoming an injury hit Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-final match up. Had it not been for the absence of Robert Lewandowski in the first leg and numerous missed chances by the last year runner-ups in the second, Los Balncos might have surrendered their pursuit once again to Dortmund for the second consecutive year. Ancelotti's men had no answer to the intensity, pressing and team work of the German outfit.
Equally good in attack, Atletico are even better in terms of pressing, intensity, hunger and defense than Dortmund. While Real Madrid enter the final as the season's highest scoring team both domestically and in the champions league, Atletico are the team who conceded the least in each competition. In fact, Atletico are unbeaten in this term’s champions league, unarguably due to their extraordinary defence and scorching intensity.
Real Madrid's defense has got good shape and stability under Ancelotti. It is the attack which is of real concern in the final. Simeone's men invite attack, close spaces, press hard, snatch the ball and counter attack, while, on the other hand Real Madrid players love to have spaces to run at defences which Atletico will not concede even for a moment. Amidst such a tactical adversity, can Madridistas realize their Decima dream?
With all due respect to Real Madrid's attack which boasts of the two finest players of the game in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, I believe, it is not wise to bank on a well worked out goal to win the final. This claim has enough supporting precedents especially with the fact that Barcelona, with all its attacking prowess, managed to score only one well worked goal in six meetings this term.
Looking at the recent results between these two sides, Real Madrid has won just twice (both Copa del Rey semi-final legs) in the last five matches losing twice and drawing once. While Real Madrid have scored 8 goals in all, it is important to note that two of them were penalties conceded by reserve team players of Atletico, two were deflected goals and two were set pieces. While one came from an acrobatic attempt by Ronaldo, only one of the eight was a well worked out goal.
So, certainly Ancelotti cannot expect his players to produce a moment of brilliance by coordinating among themselves, create spaces and score a goal or two. Here is where Ronaldo's exceptional abilities come handy more than ever for Madrid. Though Los Balncos have other players like Bale and Modric who can be match winners on their day, it is quite unlikey that it could be today, against the strong Atletico Madrid.
Atletico have demonstrated how strong they are in the air throughout the season. Though there are likes of Ramos and Varane to head goals home, it is usually not possible to score a goal from set pieces against Atletico who have Godin and Miranda in the heart of defence and Courtois safe guarding the net. But with a player like Ronaldo – with superman jumping ability – in your team, why not? Unsurprisingly, the only goal scored by Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final loss last year came from the former United man's towering header.
Usually, I am not an admirer of the forward's idea of striking numerous long range shots which clicks not more than once in about 30-40 tries or with even lesser frequency. Having said that, one should agree, there are only a few players on whom you can bet to score goals similar to the ones Ronaldo scores from distance. Not to forget the prolific forward’s last gasp equalizer against Atletico in the Liga match at Calderon this season. Moreover, though his conversion rate in free kicks is so poor lately, can we rule out that chance?
Ronaldo is also famous for sneaking goals out of nowhere with his poaching and acrobatic abilities, a recent example being the extra time equalizer against Valencia. One such goal will potentially give Real Madrid much needed victory in what is certainly going to be a low scoring final.
"It is a moment that all Madridistas are dreaming about - the decima, we are all very excited, so we have to win," Ronaldo said.
On the night when Real Madrid faces a team which fights till death to close the gaps and not allow goals, Ronaldo should rise up to the occasion and deliver with his extraordinary abilities which no other football player on this planet can match.