Real Madrid are finding top form at a crucial part of the season and return of world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo — after a controversial three-match suspension in the Spanish league — for Wednesday’s Champions League clash at Schalke could make them stronger still.
Ronaldo, 29, received the hefty ban for being sent off in the 1—1 draw at Athletic Bilbao on February 2, for scuffling with Carlos Gurpegui and Ander Iturraspe.
Real appealed against the ban but to no avail. The Portuguese has been cooling his heels for three weeks while Los Blancos won their matches without him, with youngster Jese and Welsh winger Gareth Bale stealing the limelight instead.
“The suspension is incredible. Nothing happened at all. This does not seem normal to me,” said Real coach Carlo Ancelotti.
However, the ban might actually turn out to be perversely beneficial for both player and club. Real won all three games without Ronaldo, to go top of La Liga above stuttering Barcelona and Atletico Madrid — and now the ‘Portuguese Man o’ War’ is raring to go after his unwanted break.
Ronaldo spent the enforced holiday keeping himself trim on the training ground, going back to Madeira to put the FIFA world player award in his personal museum — and thinking about how to break down the Schalke defence.
Raul, the idol of the Estadio Bernabeu before Ronaldo arrived in 2009, warned Schalke — another of his former teams — on Monday: “Ronaldo is in the very best phase of his career. He competes just as hard in every game. His attitude and his consistency have to be admired.” Meanwhile, Radio Marca commented on Monday: “Ronaldo will be difficult to stop in Gelsenkirchen. He is desperate to play again and will be as strong and determined as an angry bull.” Ronaldo is top of the Liga scorers’ chart with 21 goals, despite the suspension. However, his priority is to pick up a second Champions League medal, to add to the one he won with Manchester United in 2008.
Since that penalty shoot-out win in Moscow, Ronaldo has come close to a second Champions triumph — but not close enough for his liking.
In 2009, just before leaving for Real, his United side lost 2—0 to Barcelona in the final. The following year, the Whites crashed out against Lyon in the round of 16, despite an early goal from Ronaldo.
In the last three seasons Ronaldo has guided Real to the semifinals, only to be edged out by Barca, Bayern Munich then Borussia Dortmund — despite Ronaldo finding the net each time.
Now he is keen not only to eliminate Schalke but also to regain top spot in the Champions League scoring chart. He is currently one goal behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint Germain.
Ronaldo is also third in the all-time Champions League goals table, eight behind Lionel Messi of Barca and 12 behind leader Raul.