The 2017-18 UEFA Champions League group stage began this week, and Group H was in the spotlight on Wednesday evening. Title-holders Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane entered with the aim to earn a third consecutive crown in Europe’s most prestigious competition and defeated APOEL Nicosia 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
League form has seen disappointment for Los Blancos thus far, with two consecutive home draws against Valencia and Levante. The club sit seventh in La Liga’s table.
Cristiano Ronaldo, currently serving a five-match domestic ban stemming from his actions in the Spanish Super Cup last month, was back on the pitch and helped to lead the charge versus their Cypriot opponents.
The Portuguese superstar scored two goals, with defender Sergio Ramos adding a third in the second half. Real Madrid now travel to face Real Sociedad in La Liga play, with their next Champions League fixture at Borussia Dortmund on September 26.
We highlight three key areas from Madrid’s victory over APOEL.
Ronaldo’s return has expected effects
The club’s recent form may have produced dropped points, but a major reason for that was the absence of their most talented player.
With Ronaldo back in the line-up, confidence was certainly boosted, and Madrid were able to control most of the match against APOEL.
The home side were heavily favoured, and this was a result that most felt was a certainty, but Ronaldo’s involvement made a key difference. His skill and ability on the ball are of the highest quality, displayed perfectly with his opening goal in the first half.
A spectacular pass from team-mate Gareth Bale set up a sensational chance for CR7, and it was a play that he helped to create with his fantastic positioning.
If Madrid are going to once again mount a challenge at a double this season, the play of Cristiano Ronaldo will be crucial to that objective.
Ramos again makes an impact everywhere on the pitch
A centre-back is expected to help lead the back-line, but Sergio Ramos is not your average defender. The Spanish international was integral to the team keeping a clean sheet and scored an excellent goal in the second half.
His overhead kick may not have been perfect, but the strike was effective nonetheless. Ramos’ leadership and determination can motivate his side, and his work with Marcelo often has an impact in the final third as well as in their own half.
At both ends of the pitch, Zidane is able to count on strong performances yet again from Sergio Ramos in 2017-18.
More complete performances will be needed in the group stage
Despite the score at full-time, this was not a complete performance from Madrid. The first half featured lacklustre play at times, with the second half seeing significantly stronger efforts.
In a group featuring stiff competition from the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur, Los Blancos must ensure that they put in a strong outing throughout the full 90 minutes moving forward.
Real Madrid began their UEFA Champions League campaign with a victory, and everyone involved with the club will be hoping that is exactly how the tournament finishes for them also.