Cristiano Ronaldo continues setting records as Real Madrid flourish
Eighteen wins and counting. By the end of Tuesday, Real Madrid can anticipate another entry in Spain’s record books, another landmark in a year filled with significant ones. Saturday night brought them their 18th successive victory across all competitions, a 3-0 triumph against Celta Vigo, and with it parity with the longest previous run of wins by a Spanish club, held by Barcelona of 2005-06.
That Barcelona, the team of Ronaldinho the star and Frank Rijkaard the ice-cool coach, ended the season with the Champions League and La Liga titles. This Real Madrid, with a stellar Ronaldo and calm Carlo Ancelotti – who this weekend extended his contract to 2017 – as the architect, aspire to become the first club to retain the European Cup since 1990. They also aspire to maintain their current position at the top the league and, apparently, to establish several more landmarks for history to applaud.
They should be on the verge of a towering sequence. Look at Madrid’s run of matches up until Christmas. Tuesday: Ludogorets at the Santiago Bernabeu in the final fixture of a group Madrid have already guaranteed to place in; Friday: Almeria away. They should expect three points from both. After that, they go to Morocco, for a semi-final in the Club World Cup against Australia’s Western Sydney Wanderers or Mexico’s Cruz Azul.
Win those three fixtures and Madrid will be on a run of 21 wins, no draws, no losses in a 95-day period of startling momentum. Reach the Club World Cup final, a tournament they are soaring favorites for, and it will be 23 victories on the trot in 102 days and a very agreeable way of ushering in the winter break.
Celta, who have beaten Barcelona this season, were overcome by an Madrid side short of a pair of Ancelotti’s most trusted alibis: Luke Modric’s thigh problems mean he will not be available again until early 2015. Isco, emblematic of the musketeer spirit alive across the hard-working midfield, missed out due to suspension.
That gave a rare chance to Asier Illaramendi to begin a game, give some evidence that the back-up resources available to Ancelotti for a future period when the dynamism of his team dwindles, the opposition are not so supine – it will happen, in the later stages of the Champions League – are sound. ‘Illara’ as he is known, cost Madrid €40m ($49m) from Real Sociedad two years ago. He needs a breakthrough season: the club did not spend that money for him to appear once every two or three months.
He performed with discreet efficiency. Man of the night, naturally, was Cristiano Ronaldo. Where once upon a time, Ronaldo appeared to be in a weekly joust with Lionel Messi to see who could score more goals on a matchday and set more individual records, he now seems to be engaged in a light-hearted game of dare and double-dare with his own club: They set a record, he sets two.
Ronaldo hit yet another hat-trick, his 23rd in La Liga matches since he moved to Spain in the summer of 2009. That’s more than anybody ever has: Alfredo Di Stefano scored 22 in the 1950s and 60s, as did Telmo Zarra in the 40s and 50s.
More numbers? These goals were Ronaldo’s 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals of the current league season. And this was just his 13th match. Granted, he may have fallen a little too easily to gain the penalty he converted for the first, but the right-footed drive and the sweep of his left foot to convert Marcelo’s cross for the two second-half strikes were handsome goals. His spectacular, airborne scissor kick, whistling just over the Celta crossbar was not far off from giving him four for the night.
And he’s another number that needs framing in the Cristiano Ronaldo museum in Madeira, Portugal. He reached 200 La Liga goals with his third against Celta, just his 178th match.
“You have to invent new words to describe the levels Ronaldo is reaching,” said Sergio Ramos, the Real Madrid vice-captain. “He is beating record after record. It’s crazy the numbers he is accumulating. We are privileged to have him here.”
You felt a little for Ramos. In the cascade of records, his big night had become almost a footnote. The defender played his 300th La Liga match for Real Madrid, was presented with a jersey to bless the occasion by team president Florentino Perez and executed one textbook sliding tackle that was a reminder of his value to Ancelotti, even if his career includes a too-high number of red cards.
Ramos, like Ronaldo, has had a brilliant year: a goal scorer in the semi-finals and final of the Champions League and the main man in a back four that has conceded just nine goals in this historic 18-game run.
That figure is an important as any for Ancelotti.