Will the Cristiano Ronaldo effect propel record-breaking Juventus to the treble?
Background image: Pasqualeiannucci, CC BY-SA 3.0
Eyebrows were raised in different quarters when Cristiano Ronaldo left his comfort zone at Real Madrid for uncharted territory in Italy. Like his nemesis, the other guy, he could stay in Spain and consolidate on his legendary status. But ever so ambitious for new conquests, he sought a new challenge.
Juventus has held Serie A hostage winning seven consecutive league crowns. But with an ageing squad made up of several key players at the wrong side of 30, the tide was beginning to turn last term. Other clubs were closing the gap fast. Maurizio Sarri's Napoli pushed the serial winners all the way until they fell away in the last few weeks of the campaign.
Before then, the Scudetto could go either way. Napoli sat atop the league table for several weeks but failed to sparkle when it mattered most. The champions took full advantage and retained their crown with just a four-point gap.
After coming so close yet failing again, Sarri had had enough and seeked a fresh opportunity in the Premier League. His replacement, Carlo Ancelotti, has not done badly. Yet he is nowhere near upstaging Juve. His Napoli side remains the closest challenger to the Old Lady this season. But the gap at the top has widened again.
Although that’s not because Gli Azzurri have dropped off the pace. In fact, Ancelotti’s men have done well in Serie A this term. With just three defeats in 19 matches, they could easily be top of the pile if Juve wasn’t having such a record-breaking campaign.
The defending champions have simply refused to lose. They recently came close to defeat for the first time in the campaign when they travelled to Atalanta. After going 2-1 down, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner stepped up from the bench to equalise late in the match. And that, despite playing with a man down.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid talisman is on fire at the moment. A total of 14 goals five assists in 19 league games is a remarkable return for any player. Add to that the fact that he is having his first season in a different league and it’s a superb accomplishment so far; even for Ronaldo. At this rate, it’s easy to conclude that the Scudetto is already in the bag for the serial winners.
But that may just be the beginning. The Coppa Italia will likely be picked up as well in the end. Yet, his and the club’s biggest target is an open secret. It’s to lift the Champions League at the end of the season. That was the reason for the union in the first place.
His goals were instrumental to Madrid's continued success in the competition. So having become a specialist of some sort in winning the great trophy, he was the missing piece for the Bianconeri. Massimiliano Allegri's men have been to two finals in recent times yet came up short. Together, they hope to be third time lucky.
With his and the club’s current league form, it is difficult to bet against the Old Lady emerging victorious this season.
The 33-year-old has not reached peak form in the competition yet, with just a goal and two assists in the group stage. But his experience and league form will definitely come to bear at the latter stages. That will be starting from an old enemy, Atletico Madrid.
Diego Simeone's men are no pushover by any means. The extra motivation of playing the final at home could provide more zest. But over two legs, the Italian side will most likely prevail. More so when Ronaldo is on hand to add the necessary extra quality.
The same scenario could repeat itself in the semifinal. That puts Juventus in a strong position to secure the treble this season. And it will be due largely to the Cristiano Ronaldo effect.