All eyes on Ron­aldo’s slump

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Tales Az­zoni

MADRID >> The Span­ish league is off to a tight race atop the stand­ings, with five teams sep­a­rated by only three points. Yet, most of the talk en­ter­ing the week­end is about whether Cris­tiano Ron­aldo will end his scor­ing slump.

Real Madrid leads the league ahead of its match at Alaves on Satur­day, but not thanks to Ron­aldo’s re­cent per­for­mances. The for­ward is en­dur­ing his worst start to a sea­son since join­ing Madrid in 2009, hav­ing scored only four goals in nine matches.

“When you’re used to scor­ing al­most 70 goals a sea­son, it’s al­most like an ad­dic­tion for goals,” Madrid re­serve for­ward Al­varo Mo­rata said. “For us, he is the most im­por­tant player in the team and I hope that he scores lots of goals, but he is not a ma­chine. He is a hu­man be­ing. Even if he comes from an­other planet and is dif­fer­ent, he also has the right to miss.”

Ron­aldo also scored five goals in two games with Por­tu­gal, against An­dorra and the Faeroe Is­lands in World Cup qual­i­fy­ing, but that’s no re­prieve to the de­mand­ing Madrid fans.

He was jeered by the crowd at the San­ti­ago Bern­abeu Sta­dium after an­other dis­ap­point­ing per­for­mance in a 2-1 win against Ath­letic Bil­bao on Sun­day.

“The fans de­mand a lot of play­ers,” Madrid coach Zine­dine Zi­dane said. “The Bern­abeu is spe­cial and we know it. Cris­tiano knows it and he is used to it. The im­por­tant thing is to con­tinue with our work.”

Ron­aldo has scored only two goals in the Span­ish league — in a 5-2 win against Osasuna in Septem­ber and a 6-1 rout at Real Betis two weeks ago. He also scored two goals in the Cham­pi­ons League, one in a 2-2 draw at Borus­sia Dort­mund and one in a 2-1 win over Sport­ing Lis­bon, when his free­kick goal started a late rally.

“Of course he wants to score more,” Madrid de­fender Marcelo said. “He is a player who helps a lot and not only with goals, also with his work on the pitch.”

The game against Osasuna was the first of the sea­son for Ron­aldo. He hadn’t played since in­jur­ing his left knee in the fi­nal of the Eu­ro­pean Cham­pi­onship, which Por­tu­gal won.

Ron­aldo seems fit and has had plenty of scor­ing chances, but has not been able to cap­i­tal­ize on them — in­clud­ing on some he usu­ally con­verts. Zi­dane says he is not wor­ried and that it’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore he starts find­ing the net again.

The 31-year-old was among the Madrid play­ers rested in the team’s 7-1 win over Cul­tural Leonesa in the Copa del Rey on Wed­nes­day. He is set to re­turn to the lineup on Satur­day, when Zi­dane’s team tries to de­fend its Span­ish league lead against pro­moted Alaves.

Sevilla, one point be­hind Madrid, plays at Sport­ing Gi­jon on Satur­day, while third­place Barcelona hosts last­place Granada in its 1,500th game at the Camp Nou. Con­trary to Ron­aldo, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi is en­joy­ing one of the best starts of his ca­reer with 14 goals in 11 matches. He has more goals than Ron­aldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Ben­zema com­bined.

Fourth-place Vil­lar­real plays at Eibar on Sun­day, and fifth-place Atletico Madrid, which led the league en­ter­ing the last round, hosts Malaga on Satur­day.

DANIEL OCHOA DE OLZA — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Real Madrid’s Cris­tiano Ron­aldo re­acts dur­ing a Spain’s La Liga soc­cer match be­tween Real Madrid and Ath­letic Bil­bao at the San­ti­ago Bern­abeu sta­dium in Madrid, Spain, Oct. 23.

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