THE BLOG

Are We Ignoring Cristiano Ronaldo's Gradual Decline?

04/03/2016 15:44 GMT | Updated 05/03/2017 10:12 GMT

This is a controversial topic but before the hoards of Cristiano Ronaldo fanboys who genuinely believe he's better than Lionel Messi send a barrage of comments, read this article fully first. Ronaldo is one of a kind. He wasn't born with the natural talent of Messi, but he perfected his game, trained hard and quickly became one of the best and most entertaining players in world football. Truly. Him and Messi are in a league of their own. Until now?

Sure, Ronaldo is still scoring goals left, right and centre - at the time of writing, he has already scored 35 goals in 34 games, including 23 goals in 27 league games. However, something seems to have changed. From a player who scored for fun against anyone, no matter the opposition, Ronaldo's decline or rather, drop in influence in the big games, is becoming especially noticeable.

Of his 35 goals this season, none of them have been against the likes of Atletico Madrid, PSG, Barcelona, Sevilla and Villarreal. This is all the more extraordinary when you consider that 17 of his goals this season have come in five games - against the likes of Malmo and Espanyol, who Ronaldo netted against in both games this season, as well as a much weakened Shakhtar Donetsk side (who lost Douglas Costa and Luiz Adriano). In reality, that means Ronaldo has only scored 18 goals in 29 games if you discount those games. Still impressive, but for what we've been accustomed to in the past, that is a huge drop in goalscoring rate.

Of course, we can't just discount those games - Ronaldo would get stick if he couldn't score against the so called "easier teams". But even in previous seasons, Ronaldo, no matter his teammates or the manager, always scored in the big games.

In Real Madrid's only league title winning campaign in the last seven years, Ronaldo scored in at least one encounter against the four teams (Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga and Atletico Madrid) that finished below Madrid and had a total of 10 goals in eight games against them. This season in comparison, Ronaldo has only scored three goals in nine games against the current top ten of La Liga - one of which was a penalty. In their recent home loss to Atletico - which made it three straight wins at the Bernabeu for Diego Simeone's men - Ronaldo extended his scoreless streak against their rivals to five games.

Of course, Ronaldo has made an impact here and there, in games where he's not scored whether it's an assist or taking part in a counter-attack, but for a player many see as the best goalscorer in the world, it is slightly worrying how the Portugal captain often only seems to score when his team is winning or against the weaker sides, based on this season at least. For example, of his 23 league goals in La Liga so far, only two points have been salvaged by Ronaldo's goals when Madrid were losing.

It's not only the goals that have become a worry - Ronaldo just doesn't seem to be offering much when he's not scoring either. A player who thrived at dribbling at the opponent and cutting through defense after defense, Ronaldo's dribbling has also seemed to deteriorate while he's not creating much chances either for his teammates.

In two games against PSG this season, he only managed one successful take on out of an attempted four while only creating a total of two chances in open play. It was the same case during Barcelona's 4-0 drubbing of Madrid at the Bernabeu last year where Ronaldo only managed one successful take on and created just one chance in open play. Against Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon, he again just completed one successful take on out of three and created no chances in open play. It's becoming a trend.

Criticism might be harsh however, but Ronaldo did just turn 31 and considering how he's built and plays (a speed or power based player if you will), it's only natural that such players start to slowly decline in their thirties. There could also be explanations for his form as Real Madrid, despite decent results, were lacklustre under Rafa Benitez who never really won over the players, and are slowly finding their feet under new manager, Zinedine Zidane.

However, club politics have never affected Ronaldo's performances in the past. Even in Jose Mourinho's infamous third season at Madrid, Ronaldo scored against the likes of Dortmund, Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla. He always performed.

With Real Madrid 12 points behind Barcelona, it now points to just one league trophy for Ronaldo in his seventh year in Madrid. He'll continue to score goals but now more than ever, with just the Champions League left to play for, Ronaldo really needs to perform in the big games if we are led to believe this is just a (lengthy) blip rather than a gradual decline.