All players must fall. It's a rule that has never been cheated by even the greatest of players - regardless of faith, style, or personality. Time takes its toll on everyone, but in an era owned by two players, many have forgotten that this rule even applies to those perceived as gods. For so long we have expected the best and only the best from the two faces of football - Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Unfazed, they have reciprocated with childlike desire, breaking records at a pace and level never seen before in history. The steady and fearsome chant of "goals...goals...goals" reached a height till the sound deafened us and numbed us to their accomplishments. We lost perspective, never to be clawed back until one of these giants came crashing back to the ground. That time came when Ronaldo's level dropped from the clouds and into the sand; a level...decidedly human. He missed shots he'd almost never missed before, faded out of matches in ways he'd never done before, and disappeared in the big games with a frequency that screamed "decline!" The chapel of worship, the Santiago Bernabeu, turned on him, ripping down the idols they once believed helped them to worship a god. Ronaldo was "done" they said, never to rise to the same levels again.
While it is unlikely that Ronaldo will cheat father time, his resurgence vs. Wolfsburg showed that he is far from "done". In fact, his form from the beginning of 2016 has been nothing short of the kind of play seen from only the world's best.
Cristiano Ronaldo in 2016 with Real Madrid:— RMadridFact (@RMadridFact) April 13, 2016
3] Hat-tricks pic.twitter.com/CxxiuWV4Dk
But it hasn't just been tap-ins in inconsequential matches, as his wonderful goals vs. Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao, and Sevilla, along with his match winning performances against Athletic Bilbao, Roma, and Barcelona, give you a picture of a player dominating 2016 at the moment. Add to this his biggest performance of the season vs. Wolfsburg, and you recognize a player once again ready to create more moments that will go down in history.
In that same vein and as a celebration of sorts, here are Ronaldo's 10 most clutch performances when wearing the white shirt.
10. 2013/14 - Backheel vs. Valencia to Keep the Title Race Alive
At this point in the 2013/14 La Liga season, things were extremely tight as Real Madrid desperately needed a win to come away at the top of La Liga. But as Los Blancos have tended to do recently, they fell to a deficit (2-1) in a crucial league match. Ronaldo had already been involved in an equalizer when 1-0 down (a headed assist to Ramos), and he stepped up again in the 92nd minute. With Angel Di Maria given the time and space to pick out a cross to Ronaldo, the Portuguese hitman made no mistake. With a mind-blowing twisting backheel, he ended Valencia’s hopes for an upset and allowed Madrid to cling onto the hope of winning La Liga. Unfortunately, due to his knee injury, Ronaldo did not play a single league game afterwards, leading to 2 defeats in 3 matches for Madrid.
9. 2009/10 - Ronaldo's 1st Real Madrid Hat-Trick
One of Ronaldo's great sub-plots of his Madrid career is his incredible hat-trick record. Last season Ronaldo passed Di Stéfano's hat-trick record and completed the most hat-tricks in La Liga history. It all started in a critical league match against Mallorca, with Real Madrid 1 point behind league-leaders Barcelona with only 3 matches to play. What should have been a relatively simple encounter became tricky, when Los Blancos went 1-0 down in the 26th minute. Desperately needing a hero, Ronaldo raised his level and decided to win the game all on his own. Displaying incredible pace, he rushed to a long-ball from Sergio Ramos and barely managed to knock a high, looping shot over the keeper and into the net. In the second half, Ramos was the provider again as he lifted a delightful lob over the defense, which Ronaldo controlled expertly with his chest and poked past the keeper. In the 72nd minute Ronaldo received the ball on the left-wing and proceeded to beat 3 Mallorca players before slotting the ball coolly into the corner. It was a superb game from Ronaldo and hinted at the many more clutch performances to come.
8. 2012/13 - Ronaldo's Homecoming
Without a doubt Ronaldo’s biggest moment of the 2012/13 campaign was his reunion of sorts with Manchester United. While he scored an emotional header vs. Man United in the first leg, his real king's return was at Old Trafford, where he was greeted with thunderous applause. But the niceties ended there as Danny Welbeck scored an early header that put United in front on away goals. Reeling from the shock, Real Madrid got themselves back in it after a United red card and a Luka Modric screamer. Still needing one more goal to kill off the superior Red Devils, Higuain and Ozil combined in the box to send a whistling cross into the box. Arriving late, Ronaldo slid into the pass and diverted it into the back of the net. Seemingly hurting inside himself, Ronaldo held up his hands as an apology to the United faithful. But around him, his teammates were jubilant, for they knew that Ronaldo's timely strike had just sent Real Madrid into the Champions League Quarterfinals.
7. 2011/12 - Backheel Stunner to Sustain Real Madrid's Lead at the Top
With Ronaldo's heroics in the title race the center of his achievements in the 2011/12 season, it is fitting that Ronaldo's backheel goal against Rayo Vallecano makes this list. In the 54th minute Ozil launched a corner into the box aimed at Ronaldo. After fluffing his first attempt, the defense failed to clear. As the ball drifted outside the 6 yard box, Ronaldo chased it down. Without turning around to take in his surroundings, Ronaldo smashed the ball with a backheel that nutmegged two defenders and nestled perfectly in the corner of the net. It was pure inspiration from the former Manchester star and proved to be crucial as it extended Real's lead at the top of the table for another day.
6. 2014/15 - Brace in the Round of 16 to Avoid a Decade of Embarrassment
In a tie that was supposed to be simple, Real Madrid ended up being defeated 4-3 at home to a fiery FC Schalke side. Luckily due to a 2-0 lead in Germany and a clutch brace from Ronaldo, Madrid scraped through. After going down 1-0 in the 19th minute through a Christian Fuchs header, Ronaldo equalized 5 minutes later with a header of his own. He had to battle off several defenders before adjusting his positioning to guide home Toni Kroos' corner. But Madrid continued to concede. In the 29th minute, Schalke scored, only for Ronaldo to equalize once again with a brilliant run and a header in the 44th. Benzema got Madrid's 3rd, but things were much too close as Madrid barely came out alive with a 5-4 total on aggregate. If Los Blancos had gotten knocked out in the round of 16, it could have been the end of Ancelotti's reign and the beginning of a humiliation that would've lasted a decade. Sometimes you can't thank Ronaldo enough.
5. 2014/15 - Hat-trick vs. the Unbeaten Home Team in the League
Undoubtedly, Ronaldo's most clutch performance of the 2014/2015 season was his incredible treble vs. Sevilla. Perhaps displaying his transformation to a more central role, Ronaldo shattered Sevilla with a display of incredible movement, poaching instincts, and quality finishing. His first was an incisive header, borne out of lightning movement to shake off his marker. Only a minute later Ronaldo raced onto a Chicharito flick to poke Madrid into a 2-0 lead. But just as things were looking comfortable, Sevilla made it 2-1 through a Carlos Bacca penalty. With Madrid under immense pressure in the second half, Ronaldo came to his side's rescue with an incredible looping header from an impossible 170-degree angle. His predatory hat-trick not only kept Real in the league title race, but also broke Sevilla's incredible undefeated home record.
4. 2010/11 - Copa Header vs. Barca
Without a doubt, the defining moment of Ronaldo's 2010/11 campaign was his extra time winner against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final. This crucial match-up provided a chance for silverware and provided a chance for Ronaldo to show that he could come big against his most hated rivals. Relishing the opportunity, Ronaldo outshone his rival Messi in every aspect of the game. His passing was dangerous, his shooting was troublesome, and his dribbling was devastating. But most crucially, he was a threat in the air. In the 103rd minute, Marcelo and Di Maria exchanged a quick one-two before the Argentinian released a guided missile into the box. Ronaldo rose above everyone and dispatched one of the great headers past a beleaguered Pinto. With one fell swoop Ronaldo had won the game for Real and suddenly Barcelona weren't so sure if they would be as dominant as before.
3. 2011/12 - Hat-trick at the Vicente Calderon
Even more brilliant were his 3 strikes at the Calderon against rivals Atlético Madrid in the league. Under pressure due to 3 draws in the last 5 games (against the likes of Malaga, Villarreal, and Valencia), Real Madrid were in real danger of giving up the league title. With everything on the line against Atlético at home, Ronaldo produced big when Madrid needed him most. In the middle of the 24th minute, Ronaldo lined up from 35 meters away in order to dispatch a shot towards goal. After the commentator claimed that Ronaldo had been "a bit erratic with his free kicks" that year, Ronaldo proceeded to smash a set-piece that had so much dip, power, and accuracy, Courtois was left rooted to the spot with his shoulders sagging. But he wasn't done. With the game tied in the 68th minute, Ronaldo received the ball on the left-wing from Coentrao and smashed it into the net from an impossible angle. The ball had so much dip on it, that it went over Courtois and towards the bottom of the net. To make things worse for Atlético, Ronaldo stepped up to the spot with 83 minutes on the clock, and dispatched his spot-kick into the side netting. Atlético's dismal body language said it all, Ronaldo was simply unstoppable.
2. 2015/16 - Hat-trick vs. Wolfsburg in the UEFA Champions League
There simply is no bigger stage than the Champions League, and there simply is no man who plays better on that stage. 2-0 down to Wolfsburg with the disaster bells ringing, Ronaldo confronted the press and openly stated his ambitions.
"It must be a perfect night. Those of us on the pitch need to run, fight and play with intensity for 90 minutes. Obviously, with the fans helping and supporting us, it will be easier. It will be a magical night and I am very excited."
With a resounding warning causing waves in the press, Ronaldo proceeded to let his actions speak louder than his words. His desire, work-rate, and leadership were astounding, as he urged himself, his teammates, and the crowd, on to, what was in his mind, an inevitable win. The comeback began with a bit of luck, as a deflection aided Carvajal's cross to the far post. But while everyone stood rooted to the spot, Ronaldo lashed out like a hungry panther. Not moving his eyes off the ball, he beat the offside trap and snagged his first goal of the evening. Refusing to lose focus, Cristiano pounded a shocked Wolfsburg into submission, as he flew into the air to guide a Toni Kroos corner into the far reaches of the net. With the tide on their side, it only seemed a matter of time before Real Madrid claimed their victory. But the exhausting demands of Zidane's press forced Real Madrid into a lull until the end of the 1st half. The Whites came out fitter in the second period, but failed to penetrate a re-grouped and disciplined defense. Needing a moment of magic to win the game, Ronaldo stepped up to take a free kick in the 77th minute. After the most agonizing of waits, CR7 slowly pranced towards the ball and arrowed the ball through the eye of the needle and into the corner of the net. Screaming with jubilation, Ronaldo raced towards the sidelines to face his adulating worshippers. With the celebrations dying down, Sergio Ramos lifted Ronaldo off the floor and displayed him to the world. "Here is your King" our captain seemed to say.
1. 2011/12 - Calma Calma
Though Ronaldo’s heroics against Wolfsburg were brilliant, it doesn’t match his title-winning antics in the 2011/12 season. With La Liga on the line against Barcelona in the Camp Nou, Real Madrid desperately needed Ronaldo to have one of his great games. With the match tied 1-1 in the 73rd minute, Mesut Ozil received the ball on the right-wing and played a defense splitting pass towards the mercurial hitman in white. Ronaldo made an excellent angle for himself with a brilliant first touch, and half chipped/half slammed the ball home to gift Los Blancos the title. What proceeded next was even better than the goal. Ronaldo rushed to the stands saying "calma calma. Estoy aqui"- which means "calm down, calm down, I am here." Madrid and Barca fans alike went ballistic (though likely for different reasons) and the stadium exploded. Barcelona fans can talk about arrogance all they like, but it falls on deaf hears. To us Madridistas, this is a beautiful moment. There really is no feeling like rubbing salt into the wounds of your most hated enemy.