With Juventus’ 1-0 win against Valencia and subsequent progression to the next round of the Champions League, Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player to win 100 matches in the competition.
He didn’t score and, make no mistake, he wanted to, chastising Joao Cancelo when he opted to shoot instead of passing in the first half and cursing his luck when he got the better of Gabriel Paulista in the air, only to see his header comfortably saved by Neto in the second.
Instead he turned creator. Seemingly rolling back the years, with a quick stepover he outfoxed Gabriel and squared the ball to Mario Mandzukic for an easy tap-in.
Two things have become increasingly apparent during his time in Turin. One, he’s still got it. He can still perform in the Champions League to a high standard and win his side games. This spell has also highlighted a side of his game that goes unnoticed – his creativity. When you are one of the best goalscorers in history, few talk about how well you can pass.
But for all the preconceptions about his game and selfishness – which by no means are entirely baseless – he has shown a willingness and talent for laying on chances to teammates.
He sits only behind Milan’s Suso in the assist charts with five, while he continues to chase down Krzysztof Piatek for the Capocannoniere. And were it not for luck and suspect finishing, his numbers would be even better. Late in the game he hooked another cross back to Mario Mandzukic, but the Croatian striker fired it straight down the throat of the Valencia keeper.
In their previous Champions League match against Manchester United, Sami Khedira hit the post from the Portuguese's cutback and Juan Cuadrado fired wide from a similar position. In hindsight, they were important misses.
Though dwarfed by his goal figures, CR7 racked up a reasonable number of assists during his nine seasons at Real Madrid. Most notably in the 2014-15 season, as well as winning the Pichichi award for top scorer, he added 16 assists to his 48 Liga goals.
The most common combination for goals saw Karim Benzema pass to Ronaldo or vice versa. Ronaldo and Benzema had developed a world-renowned partnership over the years, and there may be the beginnings of another. Indeed, his game looks particularly in tune when playing along Mandzukic, whom he set up against Valencia.
The two have both found the net in recent games against SPAL and Milan. A hard-working player with great attacking sense and positioning, Ronaldo can rely on Mandzukic to finish, with the World Cup finalist already bettering his League goals tally from last season in 22 fewer matches.
Top of Serie A and through the last 16 of the Champions League, Juve are flying high domestically and in Europe but still haven’t hit top form. A godly save from Wojciech Szczesny stopped a powerful Mouctar Diakhaby header at half-time, with the central defender only able to beat the keeper using his hand to score a disallowed goal in the second half.
Spurned chances cost them against United and almost versus Valencia. The quicker those two build a proper understanding, the better. But after 13 games together, things look promising.
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