A penny for Maurizio Sarri’s thoughts last night upon seeing the supposedly injured Cristiano Ronaldo majestically curl a shot into the left-hand corner of the Lithuania goal in the 22nd minute. It was Ronaldo’s second of a hat trick – his seventh for Portugal since turning 30 – that went viral. If he’s hurt, as Sarri maintains, he’s hiding it fairly well.
The game against Lithuania only deepened the confusion surrounding the Ronaldo and Sarri situation. CR7 was taken off with 10 minutes to go against Lokomotiv Moscow in the Champions League nine days ago. Ronaldo put in a poor display, but 10 minutes before the end was understandable, Sarri needed him for the game against Milan and Lokomotiv were 23/4 to beat Juventus. Ronaldo didn’t take kindly to it, being that he recently revealed that if it were up to him, he’d only play in Champions League fixtures for Juventus.
Then came that decision against Milan, Ronaldo was off after 55 minutes. This was uncharted territory, and he wasn’t going to hang around and sit on the bench in an oversized coat on a chilly Turin night. He went straight down the tunnel, got changed and was back home before the game even ended. Presumably, he wanted to beat the traffic.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos publicly declared Ronaldo was fit in the lead up to the Lithuania match, and whilst last night’s opponents – with all due respect – are hardly one of the toughest teams Ronaldo will come up against this season, you get the sense that lines in the sand are being drawn between Ronaldo and Sarri. Injured; not injured, this needs to be quashed rather quickly.
In truth, Sarri has been vindicated in his recent decisions. Juve looked better when Ronaldo wasn’t on the pitch against Lokomotiv and Milan, and went on to win both games without him. Paulo Dybala replaced him against Milan, and scored the winner, with a nice shimmy and right foot finish.
Ronaldo has been quite poor for Juve this term, and even stretching into the back end of last season, his form has been questionable (only two Serie A goals in the final three months of 2018-19).
It must be said that Juve haven’t caught the eye in general. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you’d think they were still coached by Max Allegri. They’re grinding out results in a typically Juve-like manner, not exactly what Sarri was hired for.
There have been fleeting moments of Sarri-dust, for instance the first half against Napoli in August and in the Derby d’Italia with Inter, but for the most part they’ve been rather stodgy. In an ironic twist, The Old Lady looks more menacing, more fluid, when Gonzalo Higuain and Dybala are paired together, two players that the club desperately tried to offload in the summer.
Stylistic issues aside, Ronaldo has been uncharacteristically below par when it comes to finishing chances. He’s missing opportunities that a year ago would’ve been put away in a heartbeat. His heading ability - a Ronaldo specialty – has been particularly off-kilter. Six goals in all competitions represents Ronaldo’s least productive season at this stage in the last decade.
Yet Juve didn’t buy Ronaldo to score goals in November, that we all know. Juve expect Ronaldo to be hitting his stride in March and April, but with both Sarri and Ronaldo seemingly entrenching themselves in their positions, and with Leonardo Bonucci stating that the players will talk to Ronaldo about his walk-out after the international break, the waters around the Allianz Stadium could become even more muddied in the next several weeks.