“Thank you fans. On Wednesday night, the king of Europe is back.” That was the message from the stadium announcer on the loudspeaker after Real Madrid thrashed Real Sociedad 5-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday evening. Reason to believe again, perhaps, for those supporters.
Real Madrid are a different beast in the European Cup and so too is Cristiano Ronaldo. Los Blancos have won the continental competition 12 times in their history and the Portuguese has played his part in the last three.
Last season, Ronaldo was struggling for goals in the Champions League, but hit 10 from the quarter-finals onwards, including two in the final against Juventus, as Madrid claimed La Duodécima in Cardiff.
This term, it is in La Liga where the Portuguese has not been himself, netting only four times in the first 18 games. However, he has rediscovered his form recently and hit a hat-trick on Saturday to make it seven in the second part of the competition already – more than any other player.
“He’s extra motivated this season,” coach Zinedine Zidane said of Ronaldo in Friday’s pre-match press conference. “He wants to show what he is capable of. I’m not concerned, I’m not worried. He is an outstanding footballer.”
And he added: “There have been some times this season when he hasn’t been able to get on the scoresheet but he is there when needed. On the big stage, he performs.”
That much is true and Ronaldo is of course the all-time top scorer in the Champions League, as well as the leading marksman in the continental competition so far this season.
Madrid came through their Champions League group in second place after losing to Tottenham and were handed a tough last-16 draw against in-form French side Paris Saint-Germain. The first leg takes place at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night, with the return at the Parc des Princes on March 6.
While PSG will be desperate to prove themselves in Europe after last season’s second-leg collapse against Barcelona in the last 16, Real Madrid will be playing for their season in this tie.
Los Blancos’ win on Saturday sees them move into third place in La Liga ahead of Valencia’s game against Levante on Sunday, but the defending champions are 16 points behind league leaders Barcelona (in action at home to Getafe on Sunday) and already out of the race.
Zidane’s side, winners of five trophies in an impressive 2017, are also out of the Copa del Rey following a disastrous defeat at home to Leganes in the quarter-finals in January, so the Champions League assumes even greater importance this time around.
PSG, meanwhile, lead Ligue 1 by 12 points from last season’s champions Monaco after beating Toulouse 1-0 away from home on Saturday and Unai Emery’s side have scored an impressive 126 goals in all competitions this term.