Real Madrid went into Wednesday night’s game against Celta Vigo knowing that as long as they didn’t lose, the destiny of the La Liga title would remain in their hands.
They left Balaídos with a comprehensive 4-1 win, courtesy of two well-taken Cristiano Ronaldo strikes and singles from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos.
Zinedine Zidane’s men need just one point against Malaga on Sunday to secure the title.
Here, we focus on Ronaldo’s performance.
Goals – 2
Assists – 0
Shots – 3
Pass accuracy – 77%
Passes – 31
Key Passes – 0
Touches – 45
Dribbles – 2
Dispossessed – 3
Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored 367 goals in Europe's top five leagues, breaking Jimmy Greaves' record! pic.twitter.com/yISd4J2EKY— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 17, 2017
Given that Ronaldo has more or less become an out-and-out striker, there’s only one way to measure his effectiveness: goals.
The Madrid striker scored from his first two clear-cut chances, displaying lethal conviction and accuracy. He could have registered a hat-trick, but two goals from three shots is a formidable return.
If he continues in this form, not only will Real Madrid win the La Liga title on Sunday, but they’ll be well-equipped in their Champions League final against Juventus. Ronaldo won’t miss from the sort of chances that Monaco had across both legs of their semi-final against the Italians.
10th min: Ronaldo didn’t take long to have an impact on the game. Collecting possession from just outside the box, Ronaldo took a touch before unleashing an unstoppable shot past Celta Vigo keeper Sergio Alvarez – with his so-called weaker left foot. The strike took him past Jimmy Greaves for most goals in Europe’s top five leagues – this was his 367th.
48th min: Isco led an electric foray into the Celta Vigo half and slipped the ball in to Ronaldo with a perfectly-weighted pass, and from there, the Portuguese star slotted home his second of the game.
75th min: The moment Ronaldo should have sealed his hat-trick. He was picked out in plenty of space just 12 yards from game, tried dummying the keeper, and ended up missing the target altogether. The only blemish on his performance.
This reinvented Ronaldo doesn’t quite get the pulses racing the way he did ten years ago, but he’s arguably even more dangerous at present.
Against Celta Vigo, he showed again that if he gets even a sniff of goal, he’s likely to score. It’s the sort of performance he’s been putting in consistently over the second half of this season, with 13 goals in his last eight games to put Real Madrid on the brink of an historic double.
Ronaldo man........ Delivering the league when it matters. That Ballon d'Or stamp. Legit.— 'Zatore (@Cerebrone) May 17, 2017
Ronaldo has now scored 50 goals or more for the 7th consecutive season (for club and country) GOAT🐐— BallonDor #5 (@HaIaRonaldo) May 17, 2017
Ronaldo most clutch player of all time💉💉💉💉💉💉— BallonDor #5 (@HaIaRonaldo) May 17, 2017
Cristiano Ronaldo’s left foot is better than your favorite player’s preferred foot— Saksham (@GolazoCristiano) May 17, 2017
Cristiano Ronaldo might have grabbed the headlines with two more goals, with secondary mentions for Nacho after his cheeky quickly-taken free-kick, but Real Madrid’s victory over Sevilla on Sunday night also owed a lot to one of the team’s unsung heroes.
The game was nowhere near as comfortable for Los Blancos as the eventual 4-1 scoreline suggests, with Sevilla enjoying the better of the first hour and creating several clear chances to add more goals than Stevan Jovetic’s strike just after the break.
One of the reasons they didn’t was ill fortune, with the always dangerous Jovetic seeing two excellent first-half strikes bounce to safety off the woodwork.
Another, though, was Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who made some outstanding saves in the opening half, especially when he clawed away a close-range strike from the luckless Jovetic just before the break.
It was by no means the first time that Navas has come to his team’s rescue, with their tendency to lose balance often leaving the Costa Rican goalkeeper over-exposed and far busier than he would like.
More often than not he has come through with flying colours, but that still hasn’t been enough to prevent speculation that he will be replaced by David De Gea this summer.
It’s not the first time Navas has been in this position, of course. In the summer of 2015 he got as far as Madrid airport, waiting to board a flight to Manchester after the clubs agreed a swap deal for the two goalkeepers, before the transfer (to his great relief) broke down when the paperwork wasn’t completed in time.
Even though two full seasons have passed, Navas has never quite been able to escape the suspicion that he is merely a glorified long-term understudy, keeping De Gea’s gloves warm until his much anticipated move to the Bernabeu finally comes off.
It’s been a difficult situation for the ex-Levante man but Navas has coped extremely well, generally producing solid performances and quickly atoning for the inevitable errors which affect any goalkeeper.
Zinedine Zidane on potential move for David De Gea: "We have Keylor Navas, he has been and is fundamental, like always." pic.twitter.com/rzsXJNmstD— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 15, 2017
On Sunday night, he once again demonstrated his value, and as Madrid enter their final three games of the season hoping to clinch a domestic and European double, maybe he should receive more recognition – before he leaves.
Real Madrid head to Celta Vigo tonight looking to push themselves ahead of rivals Barcelona in the battle for the LaLiga title.
Here, we take a look at some of the key talking points ahead of the clash at Balaidos.
With both Real and Barca locked on 87 points, it is the better head-to-head record which is keeping Luis Enrique’s men currently one step ahead. However, should Real pick up at least a point against Celta, then the destiny of the championship would be back in their own hands as they prepare to head to Malaga for Sunday’s finale.
Suffer an unexpected defeat, though, and it would be Barcelona back on course to lift the title when Eibar visit the Nou Camp.
Given the effort his squad put in to see of city rivals Atletico and book their place in the Champions League final, there could be some already allowing themselves to dream of defending their European crown against Juventus at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on June 3.
There were, however, no signs of any lack of focus as Real swept aside Sevilla 4-1 last weekend – and given the strong rhetoric of their head coach, you should not expect any complacency at Balaidos either, as Zinedine Zidane declared: “We don’t feel like champions. We are not going to relax and we have not won anything.”
Much was made of both James Rodriguez’s applause to the fans as he was substituted during Real’s final match at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday as well as his absence from training ahead of the Celta game – with reports circulating that the Colombian was set for a big-money summer move to Manchester United.
Zidane, though, played down there was an ulterior motive when tackled by the media, insisting the player was “with us” but had been nursing a “heavy blow” to his foot before adding: “We are only thinking about the three final (games) that we have got coming up.”
Anyone ready to ask ZZ again after the Champions League final could get a very different answer.
DO CELTA HAVE ONE LAST HURRAH LEFT?
While Real are in sublime form, Celta come into the match on the back of the disappointment of Europa League defeat in the semi-finals against Manchester United and not having recorded a victory in LaLiga since April when they beat struggling Granada 3-0 away. Six of their previous seven matches have ended in a loss.
The club issued an emotional open letter to supporters the day after the end of their European adventure which pledged to “carry on together, let’s keep on dreaming”. Coach Eduardo Berizzo sees no better occasion than Wednesday night’s high-profile encounter to produce the required response by “demanding a great performance to pay back our fans in the stands”.
Celtistas may well, as the club letter says, “make room for pride and hope” – but even for the most-hardened of supporters, and indeed Barca fans everywhere, turning over the mighty Real Madrid may just be one dream too many. Then again, they all said the Copa del Rey tie earlier this season was only going to have one winner…