33, 53, 64, 57, 54, 60.
No, these aren't tomorrow's lottery numbers, these are the goal tallies for Cristiano Ronaldo across all competitions every season since he joined Real Madrid.
That's his goal tally to start the 2015-2016 season after two matches versus freshly promoted Sporting Gijon and Real Betis.
For just about any other side or any other player, this would be shrugged off as a temporary blip in an otherwise sterling record of goal tallies. However, for a player of Ronaldo's aspirations and with the tedious and overblown statistical competition with Lionel Messi (also on zero goals after two matches) the two match goal drought has been seen as a concern in some circles of fans. But should it be?
Over the years, a certain Ronaldo dependency has reared its ugly head at Real Madrid. Of course, relying on a talent as prodigious as his isn't the worst of things. After all, he's getting paid the biggest of bucks to produce regularly and he's never been one to shy away from that burden. We've also seen this with his counterpart in Barcelona at times, for better or worse. However, this has sometimes led to what seemed like complacency from his teammates and managers, a general idea that if things aren't going according to script that the number 7 will bail everyone out and we'll all go on our merry way. When he's not firing on all cylinders or when he's not available to suit up, a panic of sorts would set in and eyes would be cast on the roster to try and figure out who on earth would replace his goal tally, as if a collection of the world's best talents couldn't put one or two versus the likes of Levante. Matches versus Atletico, Valencia and especially Sevilla late last season confirmed this and sent fans howling for a killer number 9 and for Gareth Bale to be shipped out for any number of players elsewhere.
This weekend we saw a Real Madrid side that was clearly out to score goals from the get-go, and score they did. James Rodriguez put on a passing and scoring show while Gareth Bale had a point to prove and did so with aplomb. Ronaldo had a hand in the proceedings as well, but he didn't register a goal or an assist despite looking spry and challenging the keeper much more than he did versus Sporting. However, his absence on the scoresheet was never really felt as the rest of the team were able to pick up their form and made it seem as if they were playing versus a shorthanded side.
This isn't a totally new phenomenon to Real Madrid, that is, winning games from goals other than Ronaldo's. Last season Karim Benzema provided the goal which tied or took the lead permanently for Real Madrid in 12 games. Gareth Bale has shown his credentials versus Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final and the Champions League final, and even a late penalty winner against Cordoba last season sans Ronaldo comes to mind. James Rodriguez has already shown a propensity for stepping up in big moments and you can never count out Madrid's back line, which has one of the highest scoring defenders ever in Sergio Ramos.
That being said, perhaps it's too soon to believe that Real Madrid has moved on from this dependency. After all, the five they scored were against a newly promoted side that's a better offensive unit than defensive, and three of the goals scored were incredible individual efforts that are much more rare than common (not to mention that they couldn't put one past Gijon last week when the opportunity to score without Ronaldo presented itself). We also have to keep in mind the effect of simply having Ronaldo on the pitch. Even if he's not scoring, his presence alone often draws double, sometimes triple, teams and makes life so much easier for his teammates. The space he affords players like Benzema and his connection with them would take a hit should he no longer be in this side, leaving defenders to focus more attention on the other Madrid attackers. We've seen these players overcome this on certain occasions such as the Copa Del Rey final two years ago, but should this group of players get on a roll of banging in goals on a consistent basis and against opposition such as Atleti, Valencia and Sevilla then perhaps it will be time to say that they're ready for a life without Ronaldo's goal hauls but we're not there yet.
All in all, this weekend's performance shouldn't be seen as some kind of clear sign that the team is prepared to make someone like James Rodriguez or Gareth Bale the main option in place of Ronaldo or alongside him, but it was refreshing to see others take the game by the reins even when the talisman couldn't get on the scoresheet. Ronaldo is, and will be for as long as he's at this club, the focal point of the offense and that really shouldn't be debated, he'll likely put one or two in the back of the net the next time out, but with Rafa Benitez's all hands on deck policy perhaps we'll be seeing a decrease in thr Portugese's numbers and a greater spreading of the wealth among the others. Of course you want him to score and step up in moments such as last week, but perhaps these growing pains can be of aid to his sidekicks in terms of allowing them the opportunity to grow and learn to become difference makers in key situations. When it comes to the Pichichi race and bragging rights among Madrid and Barcelona's fanbases this may not be ideal, but if we're talking about the long-term success of this club and the inevitable scenario of life without Ronaldo then there's reason for hope that the offense will still find a way with young players such as Rodriguez and Bale. A hope that we may not have felt in years past.
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