Can Cristiano Ronaldo inspire Juventus past Atletico Madrid?
Background photo: Roberto Gearfil Lombardi, CC BY-SA 3.0
When it comes to rating the most impressive football clubs on the continent, Juventus can’t be ignored. The Bianconeri sit atop Serie A with 69 points from 25 games. They are well on track to claim their eighth consecutive Scudetto, having established a 13-point lead over nearest challenger Napoli.
Why is the Old Lady often overlooked in the late-season power rankings? While the Italian giants achieve immensely at the domestic level, they fail to replicate their success in the Champions League. Despite reaching the final twice within the last four years, they failed to lay their hands on the prestigious trophy. Initially, they fell to a 3-1 defeat against Barcelona in 2015 before Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo took up the role of personal executioners, knocking them off in 2017’s final and in the quarterfinal last term.
There’s a saying. If you can’t beat them, join them. Juventus improvised. Since they couldn’t beat Ronaldo, they signed him. It seemed an intelligent move. The Portuguese demigod is a scoring machine who comes alive for the Champions League. So far, though, his winning ways haven’t rubbed off on the Zebras. Instead, he seems to have contracted their malaise.
The five-time Ballon d’Or recipient has been a house afire in Serie A, bagging 19 goals and 10 assists in 25 appearances. He leads the Calcio scoring chart both in pure goals and scoring rate. Somehow, his domestic brilliance hasn’t translated to the Champions League. In six matches played, he has one goal.
It’s not for want of trying. He had his share of chances in the Round of 16 first leg against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano but couldn’t find the answer to beating the Rojiblancos’ tightly knit defence and goalkeeper Jan Oblak. He could only watch as Juve were torn apart. Atleti struck for two goals while keeping Ronaldo and company at bay. To be honest, it should have been three or four. Juventus are lucky to still be in the tie even if it’s all to do.
The result puts Massimiliano Allegri's men in a dangerous situation. They must press for three goals to avoid penalties while also being careful not to expose themselves at the back. Diego Simeone’s side live to counterattack. Once again, all eyes will be on Ronaldo to provide the inspiration needed for his side to progress into the next phase.
He has done it before and his domestic form suggests he can do it again. His records in this tournament speak volumes. He’s scored 121 goals, assisted 44 and won the competition five times. But even Ronaldo can't afford to live in the past. He must step up and show his class one more time.
Atletico know what he can do. CR7 has put paid to their dreams many times. They will be prepared. That said, if Ronaldo is on song, all the preparation in the world is meaningless. The return leg at the Juventus Stadium will be one to watch.