When Elche arrived at the Santiago Bernabéu on Tuesday night they had scored four goals in their first four matches of the season.
When they left, Cristiano Ronaldo had scored the same amount in 90 minutes and had taken his tally in the early weeks of this campaign to four more than what the Valencian side have collectively mustered in La Liga.
The 29-year-old has high expectations of himself but he may well have surpassed those expectations over the last seven days. Ronaldo hasn’t just helped Real Madrid to three crucial victories in the league and Champions League, he has scored eight goals along the way. Just the one in his side’s 5-1 victory over Basel in the Champions League, a hat-trick in the sensational 8-2 win at Deportivo La Coruña and four in the comfortable 5-1 hammering of Fran Escribá’s side.
This from a player who only a month ago had been rested from his side’s shock 4-2 defeat at Real Sociedad and left out of Portugal’s squad for their internationals to fully recover from niggling injuries that had plagued him since earlier this year and thwarted his World Cup in Brazil. It looks a wise decision. “Ronaldo’s time off has been good for him,” said Ancelotti after the match. “At this moment he is very motivated and scoring a lot of goals.”
The Italian was asked before the match if he would include the former Manchester United man, linked with a return to Old Trafford over recent weeks, within the many changes he would make as Madrid deal with a hectic run of fixtures. 'No, for now Ronaldo does not need a rest,” he said on Monday. “He's in great shape, in good condition, mentally focused. We need him even more when he's on top form.”
The Elche defence were left wishing the Ballon d’Or holder had been left out. Escribá certainly did. “Cristiano is an extraordinary footballer with extraordinary goal-scoring ability,” the Elche manager said after the match. “He’s like what [Michael] Jordan was in the NBA, he can just keep scoring all night. He scored two penalties, yes it’s easier, but he doesn’t need them.”
Ronaldo’s first came from the penalty spot before he doubled his tally by heading home a Marcelo cross. His hat-trick again came from the spot but it was after he had done the hard work, being felled by Mario Pašalić, on-loan from Chelsea. It was his second hat-trick in just four days. The fourth came from good link-up play with Gareth Bale, who headed the hosts level after Edu Albacore had given Elche a shock lead from the penalty spot. Ronaldo was even involved in that, too, hauling down Mosquera.
“Although I complained to the referee, it was a penalty, I must confess it, the decision was correct” he said after the match. The Portuguese more than made up for it. “To score four goals is very difficult,” he continued. “Thanks to my teammates for passing the ball to me so I can score them. I have done it two or three other times. The match ball is for my son.”
It was the 25th match ball Ronaldo has taken home with him since moving to the Spanish capital from Manchester. His treble against Depor at the Riazor, one of the few Spanish stadiums he had not succeeded at scoring in before the match, took his tally to 24 and saw him surpass Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas, who had scored 23 hat-tricks as a Madrid player. He is now just three shy of levelling Alfredo Di Stéfano, who with 28 hat-tricks and holds the club’s all-time record.
Di Stéfano died this year and a huge banner saying ‘Gracias, Alfredo’
greets supporters entering the Bernabeu this season. He had managed Elche briefly and their visit coincided with the same day he had made his Madrid debut, back 1953 in a friendly against Nancy. Madrid have been mourning their best player but in Ronaldo they have one for the present who will go down alongside the Argentine in the club’s history books as one of their best ever.
Di Stéfano never managed to score back-to-back hat-tricks for the club but for Ronaldo has done it before. He did it in the league in May
2011 and repeated the feat against league and Champions League matches at the start of the 2012/13 campaign. This is a player who, alongside Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, rips up the record books on a regular basis.
His quartet on Tuesday night saw him move up to third on the list of the club’s all-time leading goalscorers. With 187 goals in just over five seasons at the Bernabéu, he passed Santillana, who scored 186 during his freescoring spell. He did it in a staggering 169 games compared to Santillana’s 461 appearances. Di Stéfano, with 216, and Raúl, with 228, are next for the taking. Ronaldo is also chasing Raúl’s Champions League goalscoring record with his strike against Basel last week taking him to 69, just two shy of the former Spanish international’s tally.
Records have tumbled since Ronaldo’s arrival and with his first strike against Elche he became the first player to score in 13 consecutive league games, overtaking Pahíño who had scored in 12 straight matches over the 1949-50 and 1950-51 campaigns. The run started last October against Malaga and Ronaldo has scored in every home league game for Madrid since then.
The player’s scintillating start to the season has come despite his side’s sluggish start to the campaign that saw them lose two of their first three league matches. The sales of Angel Di Maria and Xabi Alonso angered some Madrid fans and whistles greeted club captain Iker Casillas and misfiring striker Karim Benzema only a week ago. Those whistles have since turned to powerful praise for a man who was being written off under the belief he had a chronic knee injury not so long ago. Madrid are far from a one-man team but Ronaldo has grabbed the bull by the horns and has shown he is ready to keep hold of his Ballon d’Or title in January.
Villarreal, another side who have collectively scored less than Ronaldo this season, lie in wait for La Liga’s runaway leading scorer at the weekend. His four goals against Elche mean he has equalled or scored more than eight other Spanish Primera Division sides this season, including a certain individual in Lionel Messi, who has three, and his nine for the season so far is equal or more than 16 top-flight sides. Real Madrid may have endured a slow start to the season but Ronaldo has come out of the traps faster than ever.
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