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Mark Elkington in Madrid on Real’s over-reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo
Jose Mourinho´s chances of repeating last season´s treble winning campaign with Inter Milan at Real Madrid depend, in part, on him breaking the side´s reliance on the world’s most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 26-year-old Portugal forward has netted an impressive 34 goals in all competitions this season, 24 of those coming in La Liga, but it´s when he doesn´t score that the problems arise.
Ronaldo has run into a barren patch of late, only scoring twice in Real´s last seven league matches, both in the 4-1 home win over Real Sociedad.
They have dropped seven points in that time, in the 1-1 draw at Almeria, a 1-0 defeat at Osasuna and last Saturday´s 0-0 draw at Deportivo Coruna.
Like many of Europe’s biggest clubs, Barcelona find themselves at a crucial point of the season, with their hopes in two of the three competitions they are contesting in the balance.
Worryingly for fans, Pep Guardiola’s side have been hit by a rash of niggling injuries to key players at a highly inconvenient moment.
Arsenal did a lot of things right in Wednesday’s fine 2-1 comeback win over Barcelona, not least finishing more clinically than their La Liga visitors, but it would be a big surprise if Barca were as generous in the return leg on March 8.
World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who netted all four goals in a 4-1 demolition at the Nou Camp last season to give Barca a 6-3 aggregate victory, missed at least two golden chances at The Emirates and Spain forward Pedro was also guilty of profligacy.
During Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp last Saturday, which set a Spanish record of 16 straight La Liga victories, there was one thrilling passage of play which perfectly illustrated the work ethic Pep Guardiola has instilled among his squad of wonderfully gifted players.
The ball was played into space for Atletico forward Sergio Aguero. Lionel Messi suddenly appeared, sprinting back into defence. The World Player of the Year ran shoulder to shoulder with his Argentina team mate, stole the ball, beat Felipe Luis with an audacious piece of skill and started yet another assault on the visitors’ goal.
The Portuguese, who turned 48 on Wednesday, has been pressing for a centre-forward since the start of the season when Real set out with Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema as their two recognized frontmen.
Birthday congratulations have been pouring in all week for Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, who turned 40 on Tuesday, and it is worth taking a moment to reflect on his phenomenal record since he took over from Frank Rijkaard at the end of the 2007-08 season.
The softly-spoken former Barca and Spain midfielder has helped lift the Catalan club to unprecedented heights, winning eight of the 10 competitions they have contested, including a treble of Spanish league and Cup and European Champions League in his first season and an historic six trophies in 2009.
Jose Mourinho’s constant pressuring of Real Madrid for another striker has finally paid off, with director general Jorge Valdano saying they were in the market for a number nine.
In the past, many top clubs would have been worried that the world’s richest club by income according to the Deloitte’s Football Money League, would be turning the heads of their prize assets.
1. Lionel Messi is a more effective “big game player” than Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese may be the world’s most expensive player but Argentina forward Messi has got the better of the man whom he succeeded as World Player of the Year on their last four meetings.
Any eyebrows raised when Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho signed 32-year-old Portuguese compatriot Ricardo Carvalho from Chelsea have been firmly put back into place as the centre back is proving an extremely astute purchase.
As well as helping to keep Real’s tally of goals conceded down to five in 10 La Liga matches, Carvalho has netted two key strikes, scoring the only goal against Osasuna in September and the opener in Sunday’s 2-0 Madrid derby win over Atletico.
Ten years ago to the day, Lionel Messi stepped off a plane in Barcelona as a scrawny 13-year-old blessed with extraordinary gifts but in need of a big break.
The club’s decision to take a chance on the kid from Rosario and pay for costly treatment for a growth hormone deficiency turned out to be one of the best decisions they or any other club have taken. According to Barcelona legend, his first contract was signed on a paper napkin after Carles Rexach, then Barca’s youth team coach, was persuaded here was a player he could not afford to let slip away.