Champions League football should rekindle Ronaldo's form
ROUND OF 16, 1ST LEG
SCHALKE v REAL MADRID
(Tomorrow, 3.40am, Singtel TV Ch 111)
He sets incredible benchmarks.
Now, Cristiano Ronaldo finds himself struggling to match those heights.
Real Madrid's talisman is slowing down.
The man who fired a Champions League record of 17 goals last season to lead his side to their 10th title hasn't been himself in recent weeks.
This, as Real prepare for their visit of Schalke tomorrow morning (Singapore time) in this season's first knockout round of the Champions League.
Speculation over the root of his poor form is making the rounds.
Some reports claim that he's soldiering on despite a knee injury, and that age is also catching up with him.
Some suggest that his recent break-up with long-time girlfriend Irina Shayk has temporarily taken his mind off football.
Others believe that he has taken his foot off the pedal after winning back-to-back Fifa Ballon d'Or awards.
Statistics show that in the 23 matches from the start of the season until the Club World Cup in December, Ronaldo scored 32 goals. However, since the turn of the year, he has scored only four in eight matches.
Especially for a player who has plundered a remarkable total of 288 goals in 279 games in all competitions in a Real shirt, the numbers aren't looking right.
His frustration boiled over when he was sent off in Real's 2-1 away win over Cordoba last month, for lashing out at Jose Angel Crespo and Edimar.
He didn't do himself any favours when video footage of him celebrating his 30th birthday just hours after Real lost 4-0 to their rivals Atletico Madrid about two weeks ago - their heaviest derby loss in more than 40 years - emerged.
Some sections of the Santiago Bernabeu faithful even turned on the world's best player during last Saturday's 2-0 win over Deportivo la Coruna, jeering him as he fired blanks in another lacklustre display.
There are also rumours that the club are open to selling him back to Manchester United, as he has reportedly fallen out with Real's senior management.
Whatever the exact cause, Real need him to get back into shape fast.
The La Liga outfit see European glory as their destiny.
They are aiming to become the first team to retain continental club football's most prestigious crown since AC Milan in 1990.
Even in a team littered with some of the world's best players, such as Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos, it is unthinkable that Real can extend their Champions League record with a Ronaldo in dire straits.
But the Portuguese has made a career out of defying odds.
The Champions League is his playground, the platform on which he invariably thrives.
Maybe this is just the spark he needs.
Schalke would do well to watch out.
SCHALKE NOT SCARED OF REAL
"We know we got swatted away last year and that Real Madrid are one of the best sides in the world, but teams like that are beatable."
- Schalke skipper Benedikt Hoewedes
"Real have a worldclass squad full of big names. But if we defend in a compact manner, we will make life difficult for any team in the world. We have good players too. I'm certain we'll have chances."
- Schalke forward Sidney Sam