Rested Ronaldo back in the groove
After being substituted in last game, Ronaldo dances with joy in the next
BORUSSIA DORTMUND 2
(Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 43, Andre Schuerrle 87)
REAL MADRID 2
(Cristiano Ronaldo 17, Raphael Varane 68)
Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't do apologies. They are unbecoming of his status.
Gods, after all, are never wrong.
But the brief handshake at least offered a begrudging acceptance that his manager might have had a point after all.
Ronaldo shook Zinedine Zidane's hand after scoring Real Madrid's opening goal yesterday morning (Singapore time).
VICTORY JIG: Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo's goal against Borussia Dortmund that calls for a celebration. PHOTO: AFP
The riveting Champions League encounter ended 2-2, with Borussia Dortmund snatching a late equaliser, but a rest had clearly worked wonders.
A recharged Ronaldo offers Real more than a fading freak of nature.
The monarch of Madrid is slowly morphing into a semi-regular person.
But, if Ronaldo is learning that to err is human, it can still be divine.
He savoured his most accomplished and sustained performance of the season, scoring an excellent first goal and providing a sumptuous assist for the second.
More importantly, he completed the 90 minutes, something that can no longer be taken for granted.
The 31-year-old was substituted at Las Palmas at the weekend and retaliated by shouting and allegedly swearing at Zidane.
Real's unflappable coach brushed off the exchange, as if he was removing dandruff from a blazer.
Besides, he was right. If the night belonged to Ronaldo, vindication belonged to Zidane.
His new "rest and recuperate" approach, which led to Ronaldo coming off 20 minutes early in Las Palmas, energised the ageing thoroughbred.
The winger's lacklustre trudging in La Liga gave way to a sprightly gallop in the Champions League.
Not every endeavour came off. He was lucky to get away with a handball that denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity for Dortmund and he lost the ball to the impressive Ousmane Dembele in a dangerous position.
But Ronaldo was occupying the left-back position at the time. He started the contest as a nominal left winger. He was all over the place, tracking back and making tackles.
His goal and assist were celebrated with teammates, both on the pitch and in the dugout, rather than with himself and a cluster of grateful photographers.
Most of all, there was the handshake, an acknowledgement of their respectful relationship and perhaps even Ronaldo's evolving relationship within the team.
His skills must be deployed more judiciously because he plays only one way, fast and furiously. He's a predator, not Andrea Pirlo.
There's no semi-retirement home waiting for him in front of the back four.
His explosiveness, his very existence on a football field, depends upon his physicality. Push-ups and pull-ups can hold off the body fat, but not the 32 candles on his next birthday cake.
To continue his scoring form - he volleyed home his 17th goal in 18 games against German opposition - Ronaldo might see his number on the subs' board more often.
Zidane's intelligent use of his prized asset becomes more critical when examined in conjunction with Real's alarming defensive frailties.
Without the injured Casemiro, Real have dropped points - and conceded soft goals - in three consecutive games.
Ironically, pre-season target Julian Weigl now plays the Casemiro role at Dortmund, babysitting the back four and offering the dependable cover missing at Real.
Toni Kroos and Luka Modric's attacking attributes are obvious, but neither is renowned for his defensive strengths. Ronaldo popped up at left-back with good reason.
Real failed to reinforce in pre-season. No back-up for Casemiro was signed and options remain limited.
As the club are now banned from registering new players until January 2018, Zidane's defensive problems are acute, particularly in goal.
Against Dortmund, Keylor Navas didn't look like a Real Madrid goalkeeper. At times, he didn't look like a goalkeeper.
His farcically weak punch of a routine free-kick gifted Dortmund a first goal and his poor handling throughout always threatened a second.
Clean sheets appear unlikely at Real Madrid. Outscoring the opposition currently looks the most viable option, which makes Ronaldo's role all the more pivotal.
As he approaches the twilight of his career, his performances must be managed and his ego carefully massaged, because it's a real mess in defence.
It feels good not to have lost after being behind twice in the match. But we feel we can do even better.
— Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel
When you concede three minutes from the end it hurts, especially given the effort the players put in. But it is not a bad result. It is a difficult place to come against a good team, but I am very proud.
— Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane