Right now there’s no club team that wouldn’t be improved by the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo in the starting lineup. Even then, if there’s any proof that football clubs are bigger than superstar players (and this is by no means a criticism of CR), it is in Manchester and Madrid.
Both clubs have had to learn – United over the course of this season and Madrid in recent weeks – to play without the former World Player of the Year. In both cases, managers have changed the playing style of their teams, playing traditional forwards and wide men to reap positive results. In both cases, the teams are second in their league and yet to play the leaders at home. In both cases, after a topsy-turvy season where they haven’t been at their best, fans believe that they have a genuine shot at the title.
For Manchester United, the revelation has been not just Rooney but Valencia and Evans and Fletcher. A combination of old and new young players stepping up and taking on added responsibilities. For Real Madrid, we’ve seen Kaka do his reputation some justice, Alonso making Liverpool fans cry, Benzema slowly fulfilling his potential and now Esteban Granero, the highly-rated young Spaniard, come into the starting lineup in place of Cristiano Ronaldo and doing an excellent job.
In fact, as Andy Brassell discusses in this week’s Soccerlens TV segment, there are calls from Madrid fans – a significant majority of them – to keep Granero in the starting lineup even when Ronaldo returns from suspension. That doesn’t mean he should necessarily be dropped, but it’s always good to see young talent succeed at a big club and Granero certainly has the potential to play a big part in Madrid’s future, and indeed, current campaign.
It will be interesting to see how Real Madrid play after Ronaldo’s return – whether they retain their new 4-4-2 diamond formation or revert to a 4-2-3-1.
Whatever they do, at least they have a plan B, which is more than we can say for Arsenal.