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Thursday 14 December 2017

Paul Hyland: Cristiano Ronaldo points the way forward for moody Mario

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Liverpool and Real Madrid CF. Photo credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Liverpool and Real Madrid CF. Photo credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

HE is great now, a true giant of the game and one who can stand tall beside football's aristocracy. Ronaldo has even become likeable.

After years of justified denial, the RTE panel now grant him that status and acknowledge his place in the history of the game, something the statisticians knew about a long time ago. His record is phenomenal.

There was a time when it was hard to look at Ronaldo without feeling an urge for violence but now he smiles most of the time and doesn't pout. His arms are reserved for balance and not very often used for histrionics.

He understands the principle of the team and his popularity is clear to see, even among the Liverpool players.

What a contrast with Mario, poor Mario. Balotelli should take a long hard look at Ronaldo and how he has evolved.

Of course, the big difference between the two of them is that Ronaldo always delivered. When he was at his most annoying, he scored, When he cheated, he scored. Even when he was playing badly, he scored.

Balotelli doesn't do much at all and yet, there are moments when his grace and athleticism stop you in your tracks.

When Balotelli drops his shoulder and starts to accelerate with the ball at his feet, he looks unstoppable. He looks like a footballer. But most of the time, he just stops.

He made a handful of decent runs last night but almost nothing in between. Short bursts of talent followed by long spells of disinterest and taken off at half-time.

Ronaldo was simply fantastic. Little triangles played at ferocious pace and shared between himself, Marcelo, Isco and Toni Kroos completely unhinged Liverpool

It wasn't as if Ronaldo ran the game at any point. He drifted in and out but he his use of his time on the ball was light years ahead of Balotelli.

Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling showed flashes but apart from the first 15 minutes when Liverpool buzzed around the pitch with intent and even menace, there was very little coherence to their game.

This was a bad night for Liverpool. They had to get something from the fixture and it never looked likely. It could have been worse.

Their return to the top of European football won't go further than the group phase now and Brendan Rodgers has a tiger by the tail. What to do with Mario?

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