- Cristiano Ronaldo pulled Juventus back from the brink of a defeat against Atletico Madrid with a nerveless hat trick on Tuesday.
- Ronaldo would return incredible performances more often than not in previous seasons but this was Ronaldo’s seventh Champions League match this year, and his first flawless performance.
- Even including his three goals this week, Ronaldo remains in long-term decline as he was twice as effective in front of goal five years ago than he is today.
- Read all of Business Insider’s coverage for the 2018-2019 soccer season right here.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s heroic hat trick midweek doesn’t change the fact that his game remains in long-term decline.
The striker rescued Juventus from European abyss when he brought the Italians back from the brink of defeat, overturning a 2-0 deficit to Atletico Madrid last month by scoring all three goals in the 3-0 win in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash on Tuesday.
It was the first time Ronaldo had enjoyed a truly great European performance this season, having otherwise been substandard when compared to his ferocious best in previous campaigns.
Yes, Tuesday was the first time Ronaldo had enjoyed a flawless, multi-goal, winning game despite making his seventh appearance in the competition this season.
Compare this to previous years, and you’ll still see a clear downward trend.
In 2013-2014 he scored nine goals in the group stage, four in the Round of 16, once in the quarter-final, twice in the semis, and then once again in the final, against Atletico.
In the 2015-2016 season he tallied an incredible 11 goals in the group stage, two in the Round of 16, and a crucial three in the quarter-finals to send Real through to the semis, and then the final.
Though he was only able to score twice in the groups in the 2016-2017 season, he ran rampant with five goals in the Bayern Munich quarter-final slaughter, scored a hat trick in the semis, and scored twice in the final against Juventus.
Last year he was also extraordinary as he scored in every game of the group stage, both legs of the Round of 16, and both legs of the quarter-final.
In all of those four campaigns, Real Madrid benefitted from Ronaldo’s exploits in front of goal as the team scooped each and every Champions League title.
In those seasons he frequently enjoyed big games on the big occasions, not just one great game in seven like he has returned so far this year.
Even including the three goals against Atletico it is still clear Ronaldo’s effectiveness is waning year-on-year.
Just look at the chart below – he was twice as effective five years ago as he is now.
In 2013-2014 he was responsible for scoring or creating one goal for every 47 minutes he played on average. But now that has dropped to one goal scored or created for every 95 minutes he has played. This is still a decent record, but it pales in comparison to when he was in his prime.
The quality of his shots has also deteriorated even when you factor in his three goals from five shots attempted in Turin on Tuesday.
In the 2013-2014 European season Ronaldo tested the goalkeeper with a shot on target every 26 minutes on average. And, as you can see in the chart below, this has declined every year until we get to the most recent season – this season – where he has only been hitting the target once for every 51 minutes he has been playing.
Again, this shows he was twice as effective five years ago as he is right now.
Ronaldo, of course, is five years older than he was that season.
He’s 34 years old and with Juventus having drawn Ajax in the Champions League quarter-final, Ronaldo has an excellent chance to buck this season’s trend and fire the Italians through to the next round, where the team will then face the winner of the Manchester City versus Tottenham Hotspur quarter-final.
Ajax has conceded eight times this season and has already faced tough opposition like Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. It held Bayern to a 1-1 draw in Germany in the group stage, and beat Real 4-1 in Spain earlier this month.
It also possesses some of the most exciting young talents in world soccer on its roster, like the 21-year-old defensive-minded player Frenkie de Jong, the 19-year-old center back Matthijs de Ligt, and the 21-year-old forward Kasper Dolberg.
The more experienced stars like Hakim Ziyech, Dusan Tadic, and Daley Blind have also impressed but Ajax is by no means error-free and is weak at defending counters and limiting the opposition team’s chance creation.
This means Ronaldo will almost certainly have shots on goal. But the true test of his skill set, at 34, will be whether he can make those chances count like he did in previous years, or whether he squanders the opportunity like he has done, at times, this season.
He will be 35 next year, in an athletic state of more decline, and may not get a better chance to win one more Champions League trophy than he will this year. But only time will tell whether he takes his chances.
Juventus plays the first leg of the quarter-final against Ajax in Amsterdam on April 10, ahead of the second leg in Turin on April 16.
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