Ronaldo returns to boost misfiring Real
By Richard Martin
REUTERS - The return of talisman Cristiano Ronaldo to a misfiring Real Madrid cannot come soon enough, team mates Marcos Llorente and Lucas Vazquez said ahead of the prolific Portuguese's expected return to action against APOEL Nicosia on Wednesday.
Ronaldo has missed Real's last four games due to a suspension for pushing a referee in the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona.
He still has one domestic game to serve of the ban, but he is free to face Cypriot side APOEL as Real begin their defence of the Champions League.
The long ban has prevented Ronaldo from making a single competitive start this season and his comeback arrives at a time when Real need him most.
Zinedine Zidane's side have suffered disappointing draws against Valencia and Levante that have left them four points off the pace behind Liga leaders Barcelona and Real Sociedad in the table.
"It's clear that he's very important to this team and has the ability to score incredible goals and that would have served us well today," said Real midfielder Llorente after Saturday's surprise 1-1 draw against promoted Levante.
Real have lacked firepower in Ronaldo's absence after selling striker Alvaro Morata to Chelsea. They will be without forward Karim Benzema for around a month after the Frenchman injured his hamstring against Levante.
Gareth Bale was particularly wasteful on Saturday after coming on for Benzema against Levante, spurning three clear chances to score.
Ronaldo hit top form at the business end of last season to fire Real to a Liga and Champions League double and was allowed to report back later than his team mates for pre-season training.
Real barely missed him as they outclassed Manchester United to win the European Super Cup, although he came on as a late substitute in the 2-1 win.
They also comfortably saw off Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup, winning 5-1 on aggregate despite only having Ronaldo at their service for 24 out of 180 minutes.
The four-time world player of the year's value to the team, however, has been highlighted by their struggles to put their chances away in the league.
"Another player who can play up front is Cristiano, we've been without him for four games and it's far too long," added Vazquez, who scored Real's only goal against Levante.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)