Cristiano Ronaldo wasted no time in showing Real Madrid what they have been missing during his five-game domestic suspension, by scoring twice as the holders began their Champions League defence with a routine 3-0 win over APOEL Nicosia on Wednesday.
Ronaldo, banned for pushing a referee after being sent off in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup, opened the scoring after just 12 minutes from Gareth Bale’s low cross.
The Portuguese doubled his tally from the penalty spot before Sergio Ramos’s overhead kick rounded off the scoring.
Below, we take a look at three talking points from the game.
Ronaldo back in business
Mr Champions League, otherwise known as Cristiano Ronaldo, wasted little time in making his mark. The Portuguese ace, who has scored more Champions League goals than anyone else, netted in the 12th minute and has now registered Real Madrid’s first goal in the competition for six consecutive seasons.
It was an important game for Ronaldo in terms of maintaining his rhythm in the middle of a five-game domestic suspension, and he took advantage by adding another from the spot in the second period.
In a way, his current ban has come at a good time with this game and the recent action providing an opportunity for action rather than enforcing a complete break, and his clinical finish for the opener showed exactly what Madrid were missing in their recent league draws against Valencia and Levante.
Ronaldo now has just one more game of his ban to serve, and it’s a tough one for his team as they travel to face 100% Real Sociedad this weekend. And it goes without saying that his teammates will then be delighted to see their guarantee of goals permanently back in action.
Zidane takes it seriously
A group stage home game against lowly APOEL might have been regarded by many managers as an opportunity to rest some key players and give fringe players the chance to impress.
But Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane certainly didn’t view Wednesday’s game in that way, instead selecting his strongest possible eleven with the exception of Mateo Kovacic starting in midfield for Toni Kroos.
The seriousness with which Zidane treated the fixture was no doubt a response to the recent disappointments suffered by his team in La Liga, with consecutive home draws against Valencia and Levante leaving Los Blancos four points adrift of eternal rivals Barcelona after just three games.
The line-up selected by Zidane made it clear that he wanted a morale boosting victory and that he was not prepared to take any chances in pursuit of those three points, even with Sunday’s tough trip to San Sebastian on the horizon.
Kovacic joins list of absentees
Zidane’s decision to field a strong team naturally carried risks, and to an extent it backfired as Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic was forced out of the action with a groin strain and now faces a spell on the sidelines.
Kovacic will join the suspended Marcelo and Ronaldo and injured forward Karim Benzema out of action, and it will be a source of frustration for Zidane that such a routine home win deprived him of another player.
In the short-term Kovacic’s absence is no great loss because Toni Kroos is first choice in midfield and would have played at Real Sociedad on Sunday anyway, but beyond that fixture the loss of Kovacic is certainly significant considering Zidane’s adherence to a rotation policy and Kovacic’s versatility which allows him to cover any position in the centre of the field.
Madrid’s strength in depth is now being seriously tested, and Zidane will be anxious to avoid any more injuries in the coming weeks.