MADRID • Cristiano Ronaldo's team-mates have issued a strong defence of his value to Real Madrid as the Portuguese striker grapples with a barren streak that has sparked a debate about his place in the team.
The 31-year-old has failed to score in four straight games at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, a first in his Real career since joining from Manchester United in 2009.
He was also jeered by Real fans during Sunday's 2-1 home win over Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Primera Liga, even though the result returned Zinedine Zidane's side to the top of the table.
Ronaldo received a chorus of boos from the Bernabeu crowd when he shot straight at Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz when Isco and Karim Benzema could have had an easy tap-in.
And late in the game Real should have scored a third goal just before the final whistle, only for the Portuguese to again selfishly go for goal and be denied by Iraizoz again.
The criticism persuaded several Real players to offer their support for Uefa's Player of the Year, who was also named on Monday along with Gareth Bale on the shortlist for the 2016 Ballon d'Or for the world's best player.
Cristiano Ronaldo's goal average this season, with two each in the Spanish La Liga and European Champions League after eight matches. He scored 51 in 48 games last season.
Ronaldo's number of shots off target against Athletic Bilbao, more than half of the team's 16.
Spain forward Alvaro Morata, who came off the bench to score the winner against Bilbao, told Real's website: "When you're used to scoring almost 70 goals a season, it's almost like an addiction for goals.
"For us he is the most important player in the team and I hope that he scores lots of goals, but he is not a machine. He also has the right to miss."
Ronaldo has scored only four goals in eight appearances in all competitions for Real this season, although Brazilian defender Marcelo said he is contributing in other ways.
"Cristiano helps a lot on the pitch and not just with goals but with work," he said.
Bale played down Ronaldo's struggles, adding on Real's website: "Cristiano works hard to keep scoring goals, but the important thing is the team and I'm sure he's happy to be top."
Real president Florentino Perez is also unwavering in his support for his star player.
Perez said of Ronaldo during the club's annual general meeting on Sunday: "He is one of the great legends of Real Madrid and one of the greatest in the history of football.
"He was again the top scorer in the Champions League with 16 goals, after collecting his fourth Golden Boot last season, becoming the only player in the world who has won four Golden Boots.
"Cristiano is already the top scorer in the history of Real Madrid with a record that will be very hard to beat."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE