Cristiano Ronaldo ended his three-match goal drought in emphatic fashion, heading in the go-ahead goal for Real Madrid 27 minutes into the La Liga leaders’ Champions League meeting with Schalke 04. The goal was Ronaldo’s 34th in the knockout rounds of Europe’s elite club competition and put his side in the driver’s seat for the first leg of the tie against the Bundesliga outfit.
Ronaldo has been under pressure since social media photos of his 30th birthday surfaced, just hours after Real Madrid were handed an embarrassing 4-0 defeat from Atletico Madrid. Missing a sitter and having a forgettable game against Deportivo on the weekend did little to alleviate that pressure. However the current Ballon d’Or winner found himself unmarked in the box at Veltins Arena, essentially being granted a free header by an Schalke defense that had been otherwise organized and disciplined in the 25 minutes leading up to the goal. Ronaldo rose to meet the ball in the air and left Schalke’s 19-year-old debutante keeper, Timon Wellenreuther, no chance.
The former Manchester United man had a good game overall, forcing a save from Wellenreuther with one of his trademark free kicks and eventually setting up Real Madrid’s second goal, weaving his way through the Schalke defense and laying the ball back for Marcelo. The Brazilian fullback arguably stole the limelight, doubling Real’s tally with a fantastic curled shot that found the top corner in the 79th minute, effectively putting the tie out of Schalke’s reach. That is unless Roberto Di Matteo’s men can conjure some sort of miracle in the return leg at the Bernabeu. To their credit, Schalke were able to avoid anything like the 6-1 drubbing they received last season at the hands of Real Madrid.
The valuable away goals set Carlo Ancelotti’s side up nicely for the second leg. And scoring the go-ahead goal against a tougher-than-expected Schalke will hopefully take some pressure off Ronaldo, who’s been the object of Real Madrid fans’ ire over the past two weeks. In spite of everything, Real still top the league and will look to maintain their winning ways this weekend when they face Elche away.
But a resurgent Barcelona is currently hot on their heels. Luis Enrique’s Barca side seems to have left its early-season hiccups behind and has closed the gap on Real to just one point. With Atleti having fallen seven points behind, it’s shaping up to be business as usual in La Liga. But the two-horse race between Real and Barca is looking tight and neither side can afford to drop points.
As the season in Spain approaches crunch time and the El Clasico looms, Real need Ronaldo back at his best. It also wouldn’t hurt to get the Bernabeu faithful back on his side. The three-time Ballon d’Or winner’s command performance against Schalke could be a good first step towards doing so.