CR7 in line to boost Real's attack

Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and his team-mates training ahead of today's clash against APOEL. His return will be a boon with striker Karim Benzema injured.
Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and his team-mates training ahead of today's clash against APOEL. His return will be a boon with striker Karim Benzema injured.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Champions bring star back into the fold with his 5-game domestic ban having blunted their prowess

MADRID • Cristiano Ronaldo is eager to return to action as he prepares for his first start of the season when Real Madrid begin their Champions League title defence today against APOEL, coach Zinedine Zidane said yesterday at his pre-match press conference.

Ronaldo, who was the top scorer in Europe's elite competition last season for the fifth consecutive year and scored twice in the 4-1 win over Juventus in the final, has been starved of football so far this season due to a long suspension.

The Portuguese superstar was given a five-game ban for pushing the referee in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona last month after being sent off, leading him to miss the second leg, Real's first three LaLiga games and next week's trip to Real Sociedad.

He is clear to play in the Group H clash against Cypriot champions APOEL, and Zidane said: "He's in a very good mood and is very happy to play, because this is what he really loves, playing football."

Ronaldo's return boosts Real's attack after a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Levante on Saturday, their second successive home draw which left them trailing early LaLiga leaders Barcelona and Real Sociedad by four points.

"We all know how good Cristiano is," added the Frenchman.

  • 12

  • Goals Cristiano Ronaldo scored in Real Madrid's Champions League-winning campaign last season.

"Cristiano doesn't just contribute goals, he's a leader, he always wants to win and he transmits that to everyone else. We're all excited to have him back with us."

As well as Ronaldo, Zidane will also be able to recall Keylor Navas, Raphael Varane, Casemiro, Luka Modric, Isco and Gareth Bale after they were all rested against Levante.

However, Karim Benzema is out for at least a month with a hamstring injury.

Zidane was critical of his side after their display at the weekend, but said he and his players were relaxed despite drawing back-to-back league games for the first time in a year.

"The same thing happened last year, so we're not worried at all," said Zidane, who is the first coach to retain the Champions League in its modern format and has won seven trophies since taking charge of Real in January last year.

"We can't be happy with the results, but you're always going to have a few bad results in a season."

Zidane, however, addressed the club's shortage of striking options and said that he regrets Alvaro Morata's £70 million (S$124 million) move to Chelsea.

Mariano Diaz has also enjoyed a stunning start in France after moving to Ligue 1 side Lyon.

With Benzema sidelined, 20-year-old Borja Mayoral is the only natural centre-forward available to Zidane.

"When you look at the players we had like Morata and Mariano, and you look now and there is only Mayoral, you could think we lack a No. 9," admitted Zidane.

"I would have liked Morata to stay, but you have to understand that he wanted to leave to play more and we respect that."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2017, with the headline 'CR7 in line to boost Real's attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe