Eight goals in two games. We have become so accustomed to Cristiano Ronaldo’s outrageous goalscoring exploits, we are now starting to take them for granted.
Strangely, some even seem to feel the need to downplay his achievements. “But…three of them were penalties!” they moan. “But… they were all tap-ins! But…they were against weak opposition!” But, but, but…nothing.
Ronaldo has scored eight goals in his last two games – eight! – and anyone who cannot recognise his astonishing goalscoring achievements for what they are has seriously lost their sense of perspective.
True, eight goals in two games is the kind of thing that does happen occasionally, albeit not very often. And perhaps even over a slightly longer period of time, some strikers can briefly prolong their hot streaks, plundering goals at a rate of knots for a while before then sinking back to ‘normal’ levels of performance.
Statisticians even have a phrase for the phenomenon whereby exceptional numbers are observed for a short period before average figures then return: ‘regression to the mean’.
Remember Kevin Phillips? Premier League followers will recall the striker for his goalscoring exploits in 1999-2000, when he scored 30 goals in 36 games to finish the season as English football’s leading scorer. But he then ‘regressed to the mean’ of normal levels of performance, never again managing more than 14 goals in a top-flight campaign.
A more recent example, perhaps, is Diego Costa, who enjoyed two sparkling seasons with Atletico Madrid and then Chelsea where he scored at a rate of nearly a goal per game, but is now showing every sign that he will return to his usual output of less than that ratio.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s 499 career goals. [Sky Sports] pic.twitter.com/Ru0YfY4Csf
— Purely Football (@PurelyFootball) September 18, 2015
There are many more examples of strikers who enjoy a rich vein of form and score goals at an unusually fast rate. But almost without exception, they don’t sustain it for more than a few months.
An exception, of course, is Ronaldo (321), who is now on the verge of overtaking Raul (323) as Real Madrid’s all-time leading goalscorer despite playing less than half the number of games as his predecessor.
Raul isn’t the only legend whose goalscoring feats look mediocre when compared to Ronaldo. Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano, for instance, couldn’t come close to matching Ronaldo’s goals per game ratio (Puskas: 0.92 per game; Di Stefano: 0.78 per game; Ronaldo: 1.06 per game). And it’s not just Bernabeu greats who are behind Ronaldo.
Even Gerd Muller, widely regarded as the greatest finisher ever, scored his goals more slowly than Ronaldo at Madrid. So too did Pele, who couldn’t quite manage to a goal-per-game over the course of his career (643 goals in 656 competitive games).
And, of course, Lionel Messi is another who, for all his undoubted brilliance, has not been able to quite match his chief rival’s rapid rate of goalscoring.
If anything, Ronaldo’s transition from winger to centre forward makes it quite feasible that he will continue to score at a faster rate than ever before. Rip up the record books, he’s rewriting them all.
Ask someone about David Moyes’ time in Spain and they will most likely pick out one of his comical moments. Whether it be eating crisps with supporters after being sent to the stands, his mispronunciation of Asier Illarramendi’s name or him shouting instructions to ‘Stefano’ despite not having a ‘Stefano’ in his squad.
– #360win: A trip to watch Bayern vs Dortmund
His biggest achievement to date is defeating Barcelona 1-0 and in deserving fashion back in January. Even then though, he can’t escape the jokes, as Cules later hailed him as some sort of saviour who helped the Catalans kickstart their ascent towards a historic Treble after that controversial night in San Sebastian.
When Moyes took over at the Anoeta last November following Jagoba Arrasate’s sacking, Real Sociedad were 15th in La Liga, worryingly close to the relegation zone and a team lacking confidence and strong leadership.
In the 11 games before his appointment last season, La Real had won twice, albeit against Real Madrid and Atletico, drawn three times and lost six – shipping 16 goals. It had been some fall considering they were rubbing shoulders with Manchester United – Moyes’ United no less – in the Champions League the previous season. A once vibrant outfit, built on organisation and an ability to swiftly cut through rivals on the counter-attack, were all over the place – looking lacklustre and in need of a change.
Moyes was the man charged with steadying the ship and that is unquestionably what he’s done. Some suggest it’s all he’s done. Highlights have been few and far between. Other than beating Barcelona, he’s managed a win over Europa League champions Sevilla and remains unbeaten against fellow Basque sides Athletic Bilbao and Eibar, but has struggled to build on that. There hasn’t been much to get excited about as La Real eventually ended 2014-15 in 12th place. Moyes is known for wanting his teams to be organised and well-drilled before anything else and to an extent he’s achieved that, managing 10 clean sheets in the league with a defence that is significantly tougher than before he took over.
It’s at the top end of the pitch where things are far from where they should be though. In the 27 league matches Moyes was in charge of last term, La Real scored more than one goal just seven times; four of the Scot’s nine victories were by a 1-0 scoreline. Moyes may have improved La Real defensively but going forward they were extremely dull, devoid of creativity and a clear idea of how to attack. The ex-Everton boss insisted the squad was in need of new blood. Pace and power were the attributes he craved and his wish was granted by chairman Jokin Aperribay, who forked out €24 million (Dh100m) in the summer market.
Troubled times for David Moyes at Real Sociedad – started the season with no goals and two points (0-0 draws) from three games.
— Andy West (@andywest01) September 13, 2015
Jonathas, the striker who was a breath of fresh air on loan at Elche last term with 14 goals, was recruited. The Brazilian’s energy, ability to link up and aggression made him the perfect fit in Moyes’s desired counter-attacking system. In the wider areas, the loan signing of Bruma could offer more dynamism and trickery in the final third while a club-record fee of €16 million (Dh67m) was spent on bringing Asier Illarramendi back to the north of Spain in the hope he could use his Real Madrid experience to elevate the team, adding extra control and balance.
Yet, three games into the new season, the situation is worse than it was at the end of the last campaign. La Real drew 0-0 in consecutive weeks with Deportivo and Sporting Gijon, and lost 1-0 to Real Betis last weekend, despite the newly-promoted side playing with 10 men for the whole of the second half. Over the three matches they have managed just 11 shots on target against teams they would expect to beat.
They are still rigid, displaying little coordination or charisma and look lost when they enter opponents’ defensive third. At the Benito Villamarin last Saturday, they showed signs of a desperate team with no invention as they aimlessly launched cross after cross into the box in search of an equaliser.
The midfielders’ ball circulation is poor, often going sideways and back instead of attempting a daring forward pass that would break defensive lines. Very rarely do La Real look like penetrating as a collective unit, rather they rely on the individual brilliance of Carlos Vela to supply them with a few decisive moments. Either Moyes isn’t getting his ideas across clearly enough or his players aren’t enjoying the methods he’s implementing. Either way, it doesn’t look good.
Of course, it was initially understandable that Moyes wouldn’t find the correct formula straight away. After all, it’s the first time he’s worked outside Britain in his 35-year career as a professional – the language and difference in culture on and off the pitch present obvious difficulties. Having had close to a year in San Sebastian, however, working closely with core players, plus the new signings he desperately wanted, the Txuri-urdin faithful are entitled to expect more from a team brimming with talented individuals.
"Having had close to a year working closely with core players and new Signins, La Real are entitled to expect more from a team brimming with talent."
There are leaders in this group – from veterans Xabi Prieto and Alberto de la Bella, to Inigo Martinez and Ruben Pardo – who are at the opposite ends of their careers but have been in the side long enough to know what’s required of them. Gifted technicians are hardly in short supply either with the likes Carlos Vela and Sergio Canales, who on their day are a joy to watch. There are goals in Jonathas, Vela and Imanol Agirretxe – the trio hit the back of the net 31 times in 2014-15. There are plenty of exciting youngsters such as full-back Joseba Zaldua and Geronimo Rulli in goal, while on-loan Porto centre-back Diego Reyes has slotted in nicely and has been the standout performer in the opening weeks of the season. Surrounding them is local Basque experience to help them grow in stature.
Many managers operating on a shoestring budget in the league would love to have this squad, but for some time the performances have been underwhelming. A team that should be full of vigour and drive are unable to express themselves and that is down to the manager keeping his players on a tight leash.
Coaches such as Marcelino and Eduardo Berizzo understand the importance of maintaining effect without the ball and at the same time give their players freedom with it to extract their maximum potential. Moyes, however, is far more cautious which is restricting the potential of his team.
David Moyes is a project man. He takes on a job and tries to build over time and given how much Aperribay wanted him at the helm, he’ll get the time to make a success of his Spanish expedition. But the Basques are a proud bunch and make no mistake about it, Real Sociedad are seriously underachieving. Europe is a realistic target this season, anything other than a solid fight for it would continue La Real’s downward trajectory.
Real Madrid star Gareth Bale is likely to be out of action for a month after tests confirmed he has suffered a calf strain on his left leg.
The Wales international, who has been in fine form in a new central attacking position during the opening weeks of the new campaign, picked up the injury in the first half of his team’s comprehensive Champions League victory over Shakhtar Donetsk at the Bernabeu on Tuesday.
And worryingly for Los Blancos, Sergio Ramos also faces a spell on the sidelines after suffering a dislocated joint in his left shoulder during the same game, with scans showing more damage than had been initially feared.
The Madrid captain reacted by looking on the positive side, tweeting a picture of himself giving the thumbs up with his arm in a sling and a brief message: “Always with a smile, whatever happens. Working hard to come back stronger.”
There is better news over fellow central defender Raphael Varane, who was withdrawn at half-time with a shin injury. The young France international has recovered well and should be available to partner Pepe in Saturday’s home meeting with Granada.
Considering the lightweight opposition, however, this weekend’s clash is the last of Madrid’s worries and their next game – at Athletic Bilbao next Wednesday – looks like a much sterner test.
At this stage Ramos is hoping to be fit for the trip to the San Mames, but that is an optimistic scenario and Los Blancos will be left to hope that Varane does not suffer another setback.
Another date looming large is a local derby at Atletico Madrid on Sunday 4 October, and Ramos will be desperate to be fit for that encounter after missing the corresponding fixture last year, which resulted in a crushing 4-0 loss for Los Blancos.
The injury to Bale is a particularly big blow considering the prior loss of James Rodriguez, who is expected to be out for at least another couple of weeks after suffering a thigh injury on international duty with Colombia earlier this month.
Without two of his Galactico forwards, boss Rafa Benitez will be temporarily unable to maintain the free-flowing 4-2-4 formation which had served the team so well in recent outings, delivering 15 goals in the last three games.
Although Jese Rodriguez could be selected to fill in for Bale and James, it is more likely that Croatian international midfielder Mateo Kovacic will be given his first big chance to shine since joining this summer from Inter Milan.
Kovacic replaced Bale on Wednesday night, and Benitez ended the game with a more rigid 4-4-2 formation.