Ronaldo hat-trick keeps Real Madrid in race

Cristiano Ronaldo went into Saturday evening’s La Liga game at Sevilla under pressure. Real Madrid’s talisman had just one goal in five games, and his team’s title hopes were in danger.

The stakes had earlier been raised when Barcelona’s superstar Lionel Messi scored twice in an 8-0 crushing of Cordoba. Barca had a five point lead, and Messi a one goal advantage in La Liga’s top- scorer standings.

Ronaldo responded. Although Sevilla played the better football and made the better chances, a clinically efficient hat-trick in a 3-2 victory ended the Andalusians’ 34 game unbeaten run at home.

Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said that individual brilliance had been decisive. “Cristiano was the star in a team which suffered a lot,” Ancelotti said. “It was not easy to win here, but we did it.”

The result kept Madrid just two points behind Barca, with both having three games remaining. Marca’s match report credited one man with keeping the title race alive.

“A memorable display from Cristiano Ronaldo kept up Madrid’s tenacious pursuit of Barcelona,” Santiago Segurola wrote. “Whatever the final outcome, nothing will stop the memory of a great game from the Portuguese.”

The three goals also brought Ronaldo back two ahead of Messi (42-40) in their ‘pichichi’ battle, and to 53 goals in all competitions this season. He also retook the all-time hat-tricks record for La Liga, with 25 in total (ahead of the Argentine’s 24).

Among the other records, Ronaldo now has 21 goals in just 13 career games against Sevilla.

Previews of Saturday’s game included footage of his seven goals in two visits back in 2011 – reminders of phenomenal individual efforts where he surged away from opponents using his pace and power before unleashing strikes from long-distance.

Saturday’s efforts were less spectacular, though just as important. The first was a close range header from Isco’s cross. The second a poacher’s prod to the net from four yards after Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez had helped on a through-ball. The third another expert header from Gareth Bale’s pinpoint delivery.

Over the 90 minutes, Ronaldo was not often involved in build-up play. He had dribbled past a marker just twice and had the lowest pass completion rate (77.8%) of Madrid’s outfield players. But he had taken seven of his team’s 14 shots on goal, had four of their five efforts on target, and scored three times.

“Sevilla played better, but Madrid won because they have Cristiano Ronaldo,” wrote AS editor Alfredo Relaño yesterday morning. “Playing as a mobile number nine, he scored three goals inside the six yard box,finishing with precision.”

The performance was typical of how Ronaldo’s game has evolved. Of this season’s 50 Champions League and La Liga goals, 46 have been scored from within the penalty area (including 11 from the spot). Just four have come from outside the box, and only four directly from counter attacks.

Back in 2010/11, 10 of his 48 goals were from counter attacks, and eight were long range efforts.

The stats back up a general feeling that his game has changed. After turning 30 earlier this year, and dealing with a persistent knee injury, Ronaldo is less likely to skip past three opponents before scoring, or hammer 35 yard shots to the net. He concentrates on remaining close to goal, ready to strike when the opportunity arises. The three-time Ballon D’Or winner’s adapting of his game due to age and injury has been intelligent and admirable. However he now needs his team to get him the ball in dangerous areas – as happened on Saturday evening with the expert assists from Isco, Chicharito and Bale.

CR7 continues to take the majority of the plaudits and to deliver when the pressure is on. But he is now a great goalscorer, rather than a scorer of great goals.


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