Ronaldo makes his points in leading Juventus to victory over SPAL
ROME — Nothing seems to motivate Cristiano Ronaldo more than the suggestion other players are better than him. That was evident when Ronaldo skipped the UEFA player-of-the-year award ceremony in August when he learned former Real Madrid teammate Luka Modric gained the honour.
Now, amid reports he’s been left off the podium for the Ballon d’Or prize to be presented next month, teammates say Ronaldo trained harder than ever this week.
The training paid off, as Ronaldo scored the opening goal and helped set up the second as Juventus extended its unbeaten start in Serie A by beating promoted SPAL 2-0 on Saturday.
Croatia international Modric and France teammates Kylian Mbappe Raphael Varane are reportedly the finalists for the Ballon d’Or — which would mean that panelists relied heavily on the World Cup, where France beat Croatia for the title.
Before transferring to Juventus, Ronaldo helped Real Madrid to its third straight Champions League title last season, and led the competition with 15 goals — five more than anyone else.
Ronaldo’s latest score gave him nine in Serie A, matching Genoa’s Krzysztof Piatek for tops in the league.
Near the half-hour mark, Ronaldo beat everyone to redirect in a free kick from Miralem Pjanic.
In the 60th, Ronaldo’s pull back on a counterattack set up a shot for Douglas Costa, whose effort was swatted into the path of Mario Mandzukic, who scored from the rebound.
“Ronaldo is a step ahead of his opponents,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “On the second goal, as soon as he gained control he knew that he was going to pull it back to Douglas Costa.”
BARCA BOUNCES BACK
At Madrid, Ousmane Dembele scored a late equalizer for Barcelona to draw with Atletico Madrid 1-1 on Saturday, extending its unbeaten run against the Madrid club to 17 Spanish league matches.
The result also kept Barcelona in the lead, one point in front of Atletico.
Sevilla has a chance to move past both clubs if it beats Valladolid at home on Sunday.
Diego Costa put the hosts in front with a 77th-minute header for his first league goal of the season, but Dembele ended Atletico’s hopes of ending its eight-year winless streak against Barcelona with a goal from inside the area in the 90th after a pass by Lionel Messi.
Atletico has only two wins against Barcelona in 27 matches, both in the Champions League, with the last one in 2016. Atletico hasn’t beaten the Catalan club in the league since 2010, before coach Diego Simeone took charge.
Barcelona was coming off a 4-3 home loss against Real Betis and entered the match with one of the league’s worst defences with 18 goals conceded.