ALL SPORTS Breaking News Top news

Juventus v Napoli: Ronaldo prepares for reunion with ´big bear´ Ancelotti

Cristiano Ronaldo’s incredible career with always evoke memories of coaching greats who have a similarly lofty status in football.

He was moulded and nurtured by the great Alex Ferguson at Manchester United before earning Galactico status with a 2009 move to Real Madrid.

Jose Mourinho joined him at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2010, meaning the two towering names of Portuguese football were working in tandem, if not perfect harmony.

Finally, Ronaldo inspired Madrid to three consecutive Champions League triumphs under Zinedine Zidane, another man who once had strong claims when it came to being known as the best player on the planet.

In terms of the coaches most associated with Ronaldo, Carlo Ancelotti is perhaps not the first to come to mind.

However, the men who will be reunited this weekend when Ancelotti’s Napoli travel to Juventus – the three-time Champions League winning tactician and five-time Ballon d’Or recipient Ronaldo –  were arguably at their peaks when their paths crossed in the Spanish capital.

CR7 and Big Bear

In December 2015, half a year after Ancelotti’s Madrid demise and nearing the end of Rafael Benitez’s ill-fated time in charge, Ronaldo spoke to ESPN and seemed to be pining for his old boss.

“He’s like a big bear, I can say. He’s a cute guy, such a sensitive person. He spoke with us every day. Not just with me but with all the players. He had fun with us.

“He’s an unbelievable person. I just wish every player could have an opportunity to work with him because he’s a fantastic guy, a fantastic coach and I miss him a lot because we won many trophies together.”

Most notable among those was the 2013-14 Champions League. La Decima.

In these days of Madrid making Europe’s big trophy their personal possession, it is easy to forget how the club longed for their 10th continental title. Ronaldo’s remarkable haul of 17 goals in 11 matches was integral to ending the 12-year wait.

Overall, he scored 51 goals across 47 games under Ancelotti that season, revelling in the relaxed feel that followed Mourinho’s more dictatorial approach.

A barely plausible 48 in 35 LaLiga matches followed in 2014-15 – Ronaldo has never managed more in a single top-flight season – but it was not enough to deny the brilliant Barcelona of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar the title. Throw in a Champions League semi-final defeat to his old employers Juventus and Ancelotti’s fate was sealed.

Naples via Bavaria

Memories of their 5-0 aggregate evisceration at the hands of Ancelotti’s Real Madrid in the 2014 Champions League semi-final undoubtedly had an influence when Bayern Munich appointed him as Pep Guardiola’s successor in 2016.

The 59-year-old’s mixed tenure at the Allianz Arena will regularly be used as a reference as his time at Napoli progresses. On both occasions, in Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri, he has been a man of flexibility and pragmatism replacing absolutist footballing idealists.

Initially, Bayern seemed liberated under Ancelotti and they collected their latest Bundesliga with the minimum of fuss. But the transition to stagnation, through to near mutiny happened at a staggering rate early in the 2017-18 season, with a crushing 3-0 loss at Paris Saint-Germain – another of the decorated Italian’s former clubs – sealing his fate.

It might be to Ancelotti’s benefit that he faced adversity early on at Napoli.

Showing the fighting spirit that was a hallmark of the Sarri years, they came from behind to beat Lazio and AC Milan in their opening two Serie A games.

They pushed their luck too far in a 3-0 reverse at Sampdoria, after which the affable Ancelotti was noticeably angry. Giving a tongue-lashing to player in public is not his style, but it was as close as he might get.

Since then there have been two clean sheets in three games and a 0-0 draw at Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League. A flexibility in line-up and shape unfamiliar to the Sarri era has been noticeable. The initial impression is that Ancelotti’s decision to deploy captain Marek Hamsik in a deeper midfield role to offset the loss of Jorginho is inspired.

Despite expectations of a transition period, Napoli return to Turin as Juventus’ nearest rivals once again.

Ronaldo sought his former coach’s advice before embarking upon a Juve career that reads seven games, three goals and a Champions League red card so far. He knows well how potent an Ancelotti team can be in full flight, irrespective of whether it lasts the course in a title race.

ALL SPORTS Breaking News Soccer Top news

Real Madrid v Barcelona: Messi and Ronaldo primed for classic festive argument

And so, we reach the time of year when groups of people familiar with and contemptuous towards one another get together in the hope of joyous celebration.

Pleasantries will be exchanged, along with handshakes and small gifts before getting down to business. Ultimately, the truce will be flimsy as well-trodden arguments are trampled over once more, old wounds are reopened and it all ends in screaming and tears.

That’s right, it’s time for El Clasico. For Real Madrid versus Barcelona. And, for a generation reared on the scintillating past decade of the rivalry, it is time for Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi.

Messi or Ronaldo? Ronaldo or Messi? It often seems a shame that the exploits of two of the greatest footballers of all time are used to weight arguments over who is better by fervent disciples of each man.

Trawl through online comment sections and social media posts around the times either does something incredible – most weeks, in reality – and you instantly find mentions of the other. Two fanatically entrenched sides, for whom praise of Messi goes hand-in-hand with vilification of Ronaldo or vice-versa.

It is a maddening sight, this significant mass of football fans who will not allow themselves to enjoy the pleasure of a Messi dribble or a Ronaldo thunderbolt because of an allegiance to the other. It’s irrational, blind, partisan and angry.

For El Clasico, it’s perfect.

Realistically at either end of the autumn in their respective careers, Messi and Ronaldo have never been more ideal as the leading men in the Barca-Madrid drama.

Where once there was a dizzying unpredictability about where their incredible talents might lead, now each player has a precise understanding of their exquisite capabilities. They deliberately and clinically bend games to their will and completely grasp the significance of their great moments.

When Messi shuffled into space 30 yards from goal the last time these sides met in the league at the Santiago Bernabeu, his scampering equaliser for Barcelona felt inevitable. A sensational last-minute winner was not quite enough – he had to mark it by holding his shirt aloft to goad the Madridistas.

After each goal, the Spanish television director cut to images of Ronaldo’s anguish. The joy and despair; two sides of the same golden coin.

Four months later, we knew what was happening when Ronaldo cut inside Gerard Pique in the Supercopa de Espana before the top corner rippled. It would have been disappointing if the Portuguese great had not presented his shirt to Camp Nou, Messi-like.

Being defined by one another has driven Messi and Ronaldo to greater heights and it is a state of affairs both men appear to have grudgingly embraced.

It is not enough for Ronaldo to match Messi on five Ballons d’Or, he must give an interview claiming to be the best player ever. Barcelona would similarly never settle for being considered Madrid’s equal. Theirs is an emblematic rivalry.

Over the past year, they have seemingly delighted in providing big moments on the biggest stages. These are also big bulletpoints for those gleefully arguing for one against the other.

Messi only became the best player in the world because Pep Guardiola surrounded him with a immaculate passing team, right? Now at Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde’s tactics are generally based around getting the ball to the wandering genius who can do damage from anywhere on the field, even though Neymar has gone and Luis Suarez’s form is erratic. At international level, it was left to Messi to single-handedly drag a dishevelled Argentina to World Cup qualification.

Ronaldo is on the decline, with only four LaLiga goals this season, isn’t he? If that is the case, this is a decline being managed with the magisterial splendour of nine goals in the Champions League group stage this season and 10 from the quarter-final to the victorious final last time around, including two hat-tricks. Of course Ronaldo was the man to sink Gremio in last weekend’s Club World Cup final. He knows exactly how and when the individual prizes he craves are won.

This weekend they will daub another layer onto their legend. Like all the most anticipated festive treats, fresh arguments will probably not be far behind.

ALL SPORTS Breaking News Soccer Top news

Ballon d´Or: The Cristiano Ronaldo years

 

Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo pulled level with long-time rival Lionel Messi after collecting his fifth Ballon d’Or on Thursday.

The award, which recognises the best player in the world, has been shared by the formidable duo since 2008, with Ronaldo now celebrating two consecutive wins.

A number of players have come close to breaking their stranglehold on the award over the past decade, but sustained brilliance and spectacular feats of goalscoring ensured their iron grip is as tight as ever.

Here, we shine a spotlight on the five breathtaking seasons when Ronaldo got the better of his bitter rival.

2008: The 2007-08 season with Manchester United provided the first evidence of the Portuguese’s soon-to-be-common eye-popping goal tallies, netting 42 times in 49 games. That haul led to United lifting both the Premier League and the Champions League in a memorable season for Alex Ferguson’s side.

2013: It is testament to Messi’s stunning form at Barcelona that Ronaldo had to wait another five years for his next Ballon d’Or. No-one could say that he did not deserve it, though – a whopping 59 goals in 50 games in the calendar year confirming his status as one of the finest players to ever play the game.

2014: Ronaldo continued to plunder goals at an incredible rate in 2014, but this time they led to a host of silverware for his club. His record of 56 goals in 51 games helped Madrid win the Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and the one they wanted so badly – a 10th Champions League title.

2016: Another impressive club return of 44 goals in 42 games helped Madrid claim another Champions League triumph, as well as Super Cup and Club World Cup trophies, but his crowning glory was leading Portugal to an unlikely, and emotional, European Championship win.

2017: A return of 37 goals so far in 2017 might well be down on the numbers we are used to seeing, but his talismanic presence helped Madrid win both LaLiga and the Champions League last season – something that clearly held sway with this year’s Ballon d’Or voters.

ALL SPORTS Breaking News Soccer Top news

Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid: Cristiano Ronaldo, King of El Derbi

Cristiano Ronaldo enters Saturday’s derby showdown against Atletico Madrid with a solitary LaLiga goal to his name this season.

Nevertheless, it would be a brave punter who bet against Real Madrid’s talisman getting on the scoresheet when he graces the Wanda Metropolitano for the first time.

Since moving to Madrid from Manchester United in 2009, Ronaldo has been Atleti’s chief tormentor in these hotly anticipated capital clashes.

Using Opta data, we take a closer look at the four-time Ballon d’Or winner’s phenomenal record in El Derbi.

21 – Ronaldo’s overall haul of Madrid derby goals make him the fixture’s all-time top scorer. Only against Sevilla (25) has he scored more times.

17 – No player has netted more often against Atleti during Diego Simeone’s celebrated tenure than Ronaldo, whose 17 goals have come across 23 derbies.

2 – The 32-year-old has two LaLiga hat-tricks against Atletico and, in a worrying omen for this weekend, both of them came in matches away from home – a 4-1 triumph on April 2012 and the 3-0 victory at the Vicente Calderon a year ago. Ronaldo also has a pair of away LaLiga hat-tricks versus Espanyol and Sevilla.

6 – The Portugal icon similarly took home the matchball after the first leg of last season’s Champions League semi-final at the Santiago Bernabeu, meaning he has six goals in his past four outings versus Atleti.

61 – Ronaldo has registered more shots on target against Atletico Madrid than any other opponent while at Madrid, reaching the number in 29 matches. By comparison, he has 51 accurate attempts in 28 Clasicos. His 151 shots overall facing Atleti are more than in any other fixture.

5 – Madrid’s record goalscorer has also chipped in with five assists to further punish Atleti from nine clear chances created. He has a better assists haul against Malaga, Espanyol (nine apiece), Levente (eight) and Athletic Bilbao (seven).

ALL SPORTS Breaking News Slider Soccer Top news

Ronaldo wins Best FIFA Men´s Player award ahead of Messi, Neymar

Cristiano Ronaldo was named as the Best FIFA Men’s Player for the second year running on Monday after helping Real Madrid to a LaLiga and Champions League double last season.

The Portugal star edged out perennial rival Lionel Messi and the Argentinian’s former Barcelona team-mate Neymar to win the award, which he also claimed in its inaugural year in 2016.

Ronaldo’s successes with Madrid last term were crucial in him securing yet another individual accolade, with the 32-year-old scoring 42 goals across all competitions.

The most notable achievement for Madrid was becoming the first club to retain the Champions League title since its inception in 1992, and they also wrestled the domestic crown from bitter rivals Barcelona.

Ronaldo’s goals were vital on both fronts, with his haul of 25 in LaLiga making him the division’s third top scorer behind Messi and Luis Suarez, while he also netted 12 in 13 Champions League matches, including two against Juventus in the final.

Speaking when he received his award at London Palladium, Ronaldo was quick to pay tribute to Messi and Neymar, who spent the evening sitting alongside him on the front row.

“Thank you, a lot, to the guys who voted for me. I must also mention Leo and Neymar, for being here,” he said.

“Real Madrid – the coach, the supporters and the president – they support all of the year so I say thank you to them.

“I’m really glad to win consecutive awards. This is a great moment for me. Thank you to all the fans around the world for the support. I appreciate that, thank you very much.

“It’s great to be here with these great players and I am so happy guys, thanks you so much.”

Although Messi’s season was not recognised with the individual gong, the Barcelona hero did enjoy a remarkable campaign on a personal level, scoring 54 goals in 52 games on all fronts, plus 16 assists.

It is the second successive year that Messi has finished runner-up to Ronaldo, while the former Manchester United attacker is also the favourite for the 2017 Ballon d’Or, having taken the honour last year.

That would tie the current era’s defining players on five Ballons d’Or apiece.

Neymar replaced Antoine Griezmann in this year’s top three, with the Brazilian having swapped Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record €222million transfer in August.

Madrid dominated the awards ceremony, with boss Zinedine Zidane named Best FIFA Men’s Coach and Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos and Toni Kroos joining Ronaldo in the FIFA FIFPro XI of 2017.

Juventus veteran Gianluigi Buffon was named as Best FIFA Goalkeeper and also lined up in the dream team, while Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud claimed the Puskas Award for the best goal of the year – his remarkable overhead backheel volley against Crystal Palace in January.

Netherlands’ triumphant Euro 2017 campaign saw them dominate the women’s awards, with Sarina Wiegman named Best FIFA Women’s Coach and Lieke Martens scooping the player’s prize.

ALL SPORTS Breaking News Soccer Top news

Borussia Dortmund 1 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo double seals win on 400th appearance

Cristiano Ronaldo marked his 400th Real Madrid appearance with two goals as the holders beat Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in their second Champions League group game.

The 32-year-old netted his 410th and 411th efforts for the club in his 150th UEFA club match after Gareth Bale’s sensational opener had put Madrid in front in what proved to be a thrilling encounter at Signal Iduna Park.

Madrid came into the match having never won away from home against BVB, but Bale’s spectacular volley put them on course for the victory after only 18 minutes.

It was an end-to-end clash that featured chances for either side before Ronaldo celebrated his latest milestone with a composed finish from Bale’s cross.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave Dortmund hope of a recovery but Zinedine Zidane’s men made certain of two wins from two in the defence of their trophy as Ronaldo blasted home in the closing stages.

Despite Peter Bosz’s call for caution in Monday’s pre-game news conference, Dortmund pressed Madrid high up the pitch from the kick-off and twice could have fallen behind from early counter-attacks.

First, Dani Carvajal raced into the box down the right only to shoot straight at Roman Burki, before Lukasz Piszczek just denied Bale a tap-in after Ronaldo had surged clear down the same flank.

Madrid were perhaps fortunate to escape a penalty in the 14th minute, though, with Keylor Navas deflecting the ball onto the raised hand of Sergio Ramos after Maximilian Philipp had turned the ball goalwards.

But with 18 minutes played, Dortmund’s wayward defence was punished in sumptuous style by Bale. Carvajal found space 30 yards from goal and clipped a fine pass into the path of the Wales star, who sent a sublime volley into the top-right corner, leaving Burki stranded.

Madrid should have doubled their lead before the break, Ronaldo twice firing wide and captain Ramos missing a free header from six yards out, but it needed a vital interception from Raphael Varane to deny Aubameyang an open goal moments after half-time.

But Dortmund’s slack defending was punished in ruthless fashion four minutes after the restart. Toni Kroos split the back four with a fine throughball to Bale, and his low cross from the left was steered home left-footed by Ronaldo from 12 yards out.

BVB were in need of a lifeline and it did not take them long to respond, as Aubameyang prodded past Navas after Varane had failed to reach Gonzalo Castro’s cross.

Aubameyang poked another chance inches wide from Mario Gotze’s delivery as BVB began to push hard for an equaliser, although they were lucky not to concede a penalty when Bale was brought down by Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

But the more they pushed forward, the more suspect they looked on the break, and Ronaldo sealed the win 11 minutes from time as he raced onto Luka Modric’s pass before thumping past Burki at the near post.