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Should Cristiano Ronaldo take free-kicks for Real Madrid?

Real Madrid's European Golden Shoe winner may have been a threat from free-kicks in the past but his power over the dead ball is waning.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo added the European Golden Shoe for the 2014-15 season to January's Ballon d'Or triumph but Real Madrid's star man has been far from golden when it comes to free-kicks.

The stance is famous - eyes on the goal, legs apart - with the camera flashes going off at David Beckham-like speed. In bygone years he had the success rate to match, too, but recently the goal return has been far less scintillating.

Ronaldo's numbers have not slowed down. If anything, Madrid's No.7 has been finding the back of the net on a more regular basis in recent seasons - this one excepted so far. That has been in spite of his opportunities from free-kicks, however, not because of them.

Following Madrid's 1-1 derby stalemate against Atletico at the Vicente Calderon almost a fortnight ago, only two of the Portuguese star's last 85 free-kicks for club and country had hit the back of the net, according to Spanish football statistics man ‘Mister Chip'. A ratio more likened to a non-league player rather than someone crowned the best footballer on the planet.

Of those 85 chances, 34 flew into the wall, 25 were saved by the goalkeeper, 23 missed the target and one came off the woodwork. Cristiano is no longer the threat he once was when standing stationary over the ball.

The problem was brought up numerous times last season when Carlo Ancelotti was in charge. "It's pretty clear," said the Italian last season when asked about the team's approach to free-kicks. "Cristiano takes the ones on the left of the goal and Bale the ones on the other side."

Whether that trend continues this season remains to be seen due to the Welshman being sidelined through injury for a chunk of the campaign so far but with the abundance of riches Madrid have at their disposal, Cristiano's position as the team's main free-kick taker should come under more scrutiny.

Bale, who according to some media reports has been far from close friends with his Portuguese team-mate since arriving in the Spanish capital, is not the only viable alternative. James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and even Sergio Ramos, who has shown he can take a dangerous free-kick in the past, are more than capable.

Plenty will argue that Bale looks the more dangerous from set-pieces and on the surface his opportunities seem to cause more problems and look more likely to result in a goal. Now the expectation has shifted from Ronaldo being likely to find the back of the net to being likely to find ‘row Z'.

Through chance, a professional footballer should be capable of hitting the back of the net at least two times out of 85 opportunities yet there seems to be little change in the free-kick hierarchy at the Santiago Bernabeu. A true sign of where the power still lies within the squad.

The problem isn't only Ronaldo's misses, it is also his absence from inside the area where he is a bigger threat. In the derby draw earlier this month, Ronaldo looked over one free-kick which, eventually, failed to threaten the Atleti goal. Madrid would have posed a bigger threat had the club's talisman allowed Modric, Kroos, or even Marcelo float a cross in to an area where Diego Simeone's men may be strong defensively, but where Rafa Benitez's side had threats such as Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane waiting inside the box.

The club's stance, of course, is slightly different. When the 30-year-old scored the opener in the victory over Eibar last April it was his 25th successful free-kick with the club. That ensured he has scored more goals from free-kicks than any other player in La Liga since he arrived at the club from Manchester United. Back then, Lionel Messi had managed 12 and Beñat seven. "The Real Madrid forward continues to show his expertise when it comes to taking direct free kicks," read a story on the club's official website.

Indeed, a quick bar conversation between friends regarding the best free-kick takers in the world may have the Madrid top of the pile, although his statistics tell a different story. The goals he has scored from dead ball situations have certainly been memorable, however, albeit with most of them coming in the red shirt of United. His free-kicks against former club Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League, as well as against former foes Benfica on their own patch stand out. He has some memorable moments in the white of Madrid, too, although they are fewer and further between. His humdinger against Marseille will live long in the memory.

Former United and Barcelona forward Mark Hughes certainly foresaw some problems when he was managing Manchester City back in 2009. "It is an outstanding talent that causes big problems for goalkeepers," Hughes told reporters. "But Ronaldo himself might one day find there are consequences as well." He added: "It is such an unnatural movement and I wonder whether he will be able to maintain that technique throughout his career without causing himself some damage."

That unnatural movement sees Ronaldo strike the ball with a straight leg and hardly any follow through with his shooting foot. Whether Hughes hit the nail on the head with his comments remains to be seen but those words certainly seem to be ringing true now.

Whatever the problems Ronaldo has suffered in his free-kick taking it seems as clear as ever that responsibilities should be spread elsewhere more than ever before. Los Blancos have an abundance of options at their disposal and when both Bale and James return to action common sense should see both having their fair share of chances standing over the ball.

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