Ronaldo was forced off at half-time during last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Barcelona with an ankle sprain, sending supporters and the team into somewhat of a meltdown.
However, the injury seems to be minor, and in fact the club now say their striker will come into the May 26 final against Liverpool in better condition than any of the previous European finals, including last year, when he was in top form and well-rested when he travelled to Cardiff.
Ronaldo will miss Saturday’s match against Celta Vigo, but is scheduled to return next week against Villarreal in the final La Liga game of the season in order to get some playing time ahead of the final.
While Los Blancos medical staff have remained coy over the injury, which is reportedly a sprain with some bruising, Zidane, ahead of the mid-week La Liga trip to Sevilla, declared Ronaldo is set to be ready to star in this month’s Kiev final.
And McManaman, who spent four years at the Bernabeu between 1999 and 2003 and still has many close connections at the club, revealed that Ronaldo will be in optimum shape as Madrid go for their third consecutive European Cup triumph.
“Speaking to people in Madrid, he will be fit and ready for the final don’t you worry about that,” the former Liverpool winger said.
“If Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t play it of course gives Liverpool an edge because he’s the best player in the world.”
Liverpool FC Legends Steven Gerrard, Gary McAllister and Steve McManaman were visiting LFC World, presented by Standard Chartered, and fans will have the opportunity to see them in a live Question and Answer session, as well as watch the Reds’ final day of the season clash with Brighton alongside them, at Barasti in Dubai on Sunday May 11 between 5-9pm.
Real Madrid acquitted themselves pretty well in Sunday’s trip to Barcelona, which finished with a real rarity for a Clasico clash that both teams can be happy enough with the outcome: Barca maintained their unbeaten record, while the visitors restored pride following their 3-0 drubbing against the Catalans earlier in the season.
But that doesn’t mean Los Blancos will have returned to the capital completely happy with their night’s work, because the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo with a foot injury is extremely bad news – perhaps, in fact, the very worst news they could have encountered in the build-up to the Champions League final against Liverpool.
As soon as Ronaldo was forced off the field, the Madrid PR machine went into overdrive to busily insist that his injury is nothing serious. Just a minor knock, they are saying. Nothing to be worried about. He was taken off as a precaution.
Really? That might well be the case, but one thing is for certain: Cristiano Ronaldo, playing extremely well and already having scored in a Clasico against a Barcelona team which had just been reduced to ten men, would NOT allow himself to be substituted at half-time unless it was strictly necessary.
Ronaldo, like Lionel Messi, is famously reluctant to leave the pitch at any time, never mind in the midst of the planet’s most high-profile fixture, so there’s a decent chance that his injury is actually a fair amount more serious than his club would like to admit.
You can understand why. Ronaldo being injured would be the biggest imaginable boost to Liverpool ahead of the final. A suspect defence being forced to go up against Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the most potent goalscorers in the history of football, is s scary prospect; facing a team not containing him would be significantly less daunting.
It’s not as though Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane is lacking in options if the worst comes to the worst and Ronaldo can’t play, with Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio all available.
But Ronaldo is the only out and out goalscorer within that group, with Benzema much more effective when he can play as a link man rather than carrying the chief goal-scoring burden, while Bale and Asensio are more comfortable when they start from wide positions and cut inside.
Ronaldo’s importance to his team is obvious from statistics: so far this season he has scored 43 goals in all competitions, a higher total than fellow forwards Benzema (11), Bale (16) and Asensio (11) combined.
So losing his iconic star would be the last thing Zidane wants to happen, but the French coach might just have to think about a Plan B in the eventuality that Ronaldo is unable to play the whole game in Kiev.
On the bright side, we saw in Sunday’s meeting at Camp Nou that Bale, strangely, can be more effective when Ronaldo isn’t on the pitch – firstly because it reduces the need for him to carry out the Portuguese’s defensive work, and secondly because it creates more space in the middle for him to surge into.
Isco is also coming back from injury, and the expected return of Dani Carvajal would also release Vazquez from his newly-inherited right-back position. So even without Ronaldo there is still a plethora of options available to Zidane, with the versatility of Asensio, Bale and Isco meaning he could also choose between multiple options.
Benzema could be flanked by Asensio/Isco and Bale/Vazquez in a 4-3-3. Or Isco could play behind him at the peak of a midfield diamond also containing Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro. Or Zidane could go 4-4-2, with Asensio or Bale going through the middle with two of the others on the flanks.
So Zidane will not struggle to fill the attacking positions, but none of those players are Ronaldo, and the French coach’s admission on Tuesday afternoon that it has been ‘incredible’ to see CR7 walking again is a clear indication that he has a more serious injury than was initially claimed.
Liverpool fans shouldn’t start getting too excited, though. Ronaldo’s incredible longevity is largely explained by his obsession with looking after himself physically. He goes to extreme lengths to look after his body, and if there’s any player who can recover from an injury quicker than expected, it’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
For the sake of Real Madrid’s Champions League challenge, that had better be the case.