Last night, Cristiano Ronaldo scored against Schalke at the Bernebeu during the second leg round of 16 match in the 74th minute of play with an impressive solo run. Schalke had conceded a billion goals in the first leg, but were tied 1-1 away from home. So it would be tempting to put down Ronaldo’s goal to Schalke’s defensive incompetence.
Indeed, seemingly every time a good player scores a lovely goal, it sparks an impromptu debate about whether the goal was the result of the skill of the attacking player, or the poor defense of the conceding team. These debates always seem spurious to me, in part because both attacking and defending involves a complex interplay of action and reaction to player ability, the random circumstances of the play, the positioning of the play, and lucky or unlucky bounces or deflections. But as we’ll see, while there is evidence Schalke could have done better, we can still see clearly the incredible skill of players like Bale and CR7.
Let’s go back to the beginning (always the most interesting part, to me).
The image above shows Schalke left back Sead Kolasinac in possession. He’s made a few passes that were returned, and he’s been in stationary for a few moments, long enough perhaps for his team to move forward in numbers, but also for Ronaldo, to his immediate right, to start to close down. Meanwhile Kolasinac’s team-mate Kaan Ayhan is strolling into space a little further out to provide another passing option.
And now, a fatal mistake. With Ronaldo approaching Kolasinac passes to Ayhad, Ayhad has moved too far back toward the halfway line and Kolasinac doesn’t judge the pass properly. It’s hard to get across through some still images, but Bale’s preternatural movement in reaction to the opportunity to pick up the ball is remarkable. He sees the error and reacts in a mind-boggling short period of time…
…and Bale’s touch immediately puts him past Ayhad into free space. Ronaldo is with him to his right. So Schalke have given up possession in the last part of the pitch you want to do that—near the centre circle while your team in the attacking phase. Not only that, but they’ve given it up to Madrid’s second best player.
Here, Bale has run at full speed, practically directly at Schalke’s Greek centre-back Kyriakos Papadopoulos. It’s too fast for Papadapoulos to do much, but he at least manages to flick the ball off the feet of Bale…right into the path of Cristiano Ronaldo. Ho boy.
Here Papadapoulos tries to make up for his error by checking Ronaldo, but the Portuguese winger is so good on the ball, and so strong, Papadapoulos practically bounces off his body.
And then the key moment, which you’re probably better off watching as part of this looped vid. Ronaldo becomes Joel Matip’s responsibility, but it’s hard to see what more he could have done outside of sliding to block his shot at the final moment. Ronaldo feints to the right and then enters the 18 yard box. While many players would take a split second longer to get an ideal body shape, Ronaldo’s upper body strength and accurate placement is such that he can set up his shot, almost bent over, before Matip knows what is happening. Not only that but he scores on the short side, to keeper Ralf Fährmann’s left side.
So, could Schalke have done better in defense? Yes. Does that negate the incredible skill of both Bale and Ronaldo in reacting quickly to take advantage of the situation? No. It’s a dance. One shouldn’t assume there aren’t moments to admire in great goals scored against less than stellar defenses, or against teams having an off night.