The Portuguese hit a superb hat-trick to make light of Madrid’s striker problems and sent a message to his former side ahead of their European clash at the Bernabeu on Wednesday
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
“We’ll always have Paris,” Rick tells Ilsa in the iconic movie Casablanca. And Real Madrid fans will identify with that line after Saturday’s 4-1 win over Sevilla at the Santiago Bernabeu. “We will always have Cristiano,” the Madridistas will have been thinking. And ahead of the two sides’ Champions League last-16 first leg clash on Wednesday, Manchester United fans will wish they still had him, too.
Madrid meet United on Wednesday, but plenty of problems have blighted los Blancos in recent weeks, not least dressing-room divisions exacerbated by unfortunate quotes from Iker Casillas’ girlfriend Sara Carbonero in which she admitted that the players were not in tune with coach Jose Mourinho, and the poor form of strikers Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain.
But they will always have Ronaldo.Benzema, Higuain, Kaka, Cristiano and Luka Modric were all named in an adventurous Madrid line-up as Mourinho made some experiments ahead of the game against United. And why not? With La Liga looking lost and the Champions League assuming imperative importance, he has to get it right on Wednesday at the Bernabeu, and in the return leg at Old Trafford in March.Benzema tapped in the first from point-blank range after a misunderstanding between Beto in the Sevilla goal and Fernando Navarro, but it was more a gift than a return to form for the Frenchman, who has looked overweight and off the pace in recent matches.
Higuain, meanwhile, assisted once for Cristiano in a quick counter which brought the fourth goal, but saw red following an ugly challenge on Navarro with 25 minutes left and will have done little to endear himself to his coach after that misdemeanour.
But Madrid will always have Ronaldo.
The Portuguese twisted and turned outside the area before striking a venomous drive with his left foot which beat Beto and nestled in the corner of the net after 26 minutes. Few players in the world would be capable of such brilliance – let alone on their weaker foot.
And the former Manchester United man added another with his left just seconds after the restart when he took advantage of Federico Fazio’s poor judgement to latch onto Alvaro Arbeloa’s pass and slot home clinically.
For the third, the 28-year-old raced away on a rapid counter and finished off the move via the post from close range after receiving the ball back from Higuain.
The Portuguese, who overtook Paco Gento in the club’s scoring charts and netted his 20th hat-trick for the Santiago Bernabeu side, then asked to be brought off – not 100 per cent fit for this game, and earned a standing ovation from the Bernabeu faithful. And he will now have three days of well-earned rest before facing his former side on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Madrid may be immersed in off-field problems, dressing-room disputes, controversies with their coach and a loss of form among key players, including Benzema and Higauin, but Sir Alex Ferguson’s side will have been watching this match – and they have been warned. Whatever the issues in the Spanish capital, the champions can take comfort in one thing: they will always have Ronaldo.
And on this evidence, that may just be good enough.
Follow Ben Hayward on