Real Madrid’s injury crisis in the right-back position is prompting coach Zinedine Zidane to do the near-unthinkable and field star striker Cristiano Ronaldo at right-back.
Dani Carvajal’s injury during the semi-final 1st leg versus Bayern Munich would normally not be a cause for panic, but ever-reliable utility defender Nacho Fernandez is also struggling to be fit in time for the clash, while young Achraf Hakimi is not thought to be up to the task.
There were suggestions that Lucas Vazquez could start at right-back, given his impressive performance in that position during the closing stages of the 1st leg, but Zidane is intent on playing the Spaniard in his normal position due to his two-way prowess and work rate in the final third.
While Ronaldo still remains a curious emergency option for right-back, Zidane did his best to explain his reasoning in an exclusive interview with Managing Madrid.
“Cristiano has more tactical acumen than people give him credit for, and he is ready to sacrifice himself for the team and play at right-back for one game,” Zidane said.
“It’s true that he is a goalscorer first and foremost, but we didn’t need him to get on the scoresheet in the 1st leg, and we believe we can get by without his goals in the 2nd leg as well.”
There also appear to be specific tactical reasons for playing Ronaldo in defense.
“Against Juventus, we had a lot of trouble with crosses to the back-post to Mandzukic, who had a height advantage over Dani [Carvajal]. We want to ensure that Lewandowski doesn’t enjoy a similar advantage, and Cristiano’s height will be helpful in this regard,” the French coach explained.
“Besides, Cristiano always comes back for every defensive corner anyway, so by playing him on the defensive line, we feel we can relieve him of many kilometres of tracking back for corner kicks and thereby prolong his career.”
Zidane also revealed that playing Ronaldo at right-back would make for a smart psychological ploy to unsettle Bayern winger Franck Ribery.
“If you remember, Franck was incredibly butt-hurt when Cristiano won the Ballon d’Or in 2013, because he felt he deserved it more for some reason,” Zidane said with a smirk. “By forcing him to play with Cristiano in his face all game long, we want to remind him of his inferiority to throw him off his game.”
Zidane’s reasoning will surely not assuage Madridistas’ concerns over Ronaldo’s willingness to play in a defensive role, but the Frenchman claims that CR7 is not merely willing but hugely enthusiastic about playing at right-back.
“Frankly, Cristiano is bored of being so far ahead of everyone in the Champions League goalscoring charts, as it makes him feel like he’s some kind of freak, an alien playing against mere humans,” Zidane said with a desolate frown.
“By placing him far away from the opponents’ goal, we want to try and stymie his goalscoring numbers to give the others a chance to cut the gap just a little bit.”
[This article is a work of satire]