Pitchside

Did Ronaldo and Real sacrifice La Liga to protect ‘Decima’ dream?

Pitchside

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When Real Madrid fans watched Cristiano Ronaldo walk off the field after just nine minutes of their clash with Real Valladolid, they must have feared the worst.

With the Champions League final against Atletico just 17 days away, the sight of him abandoning such a crucial match in the Liga title race must have provoked a feeling of panic amongst supporters.

Real Madrid went on to slump to a disappointing 1-1 draw and their hopes of winning the Liga title now look to be all but over.

Initial reports suggested that Ronaldo went off with a hamstring injury – which usually takes a couple of weeks to recover from.

If that was the case then he would have been a serious doubt for the Champions League final but it would appear the injury is not as serious as first thought…at least that's the line coming out of the Spanish capital.

Madrid based newspaper AS are now claiming that the record-breaking goalscorer only has "muscle fatigue."

Our friends at Football Espana add that: "Ronaldo has been struggling with knee and hamstring complaints for the past month, but this recent upset is unlikely to see him miss any more matches."

No matter what way you look at this, more questions are bound to be asked over Ronaldo's condition.

If it was just "muscle fatigue" then surely he could have played on against Valladolid?

If taking him off was a precautionary measure it just goes to show how obsessed Real Madrid have become with lifting their 10th Champions League crown.

'La Decima' has been a dream for all at Real Madrid ever since they lifted the famous European Cup for the ninth time when they beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 in Hampden Park in Glasgow back in 2002 when Zinedine Zidane won the trophy with one of the greatest goals ever scored.

Since then though they have never even returned to the final, so this year's decider in Lisbon has taken on monumental significance.

Such significance in fact that they may well have been willing to risk jettisoning their Liga title hopes by taking off Ronaldo in Valladolid.

Ronaldo did not seem to be in any significant pain when he went off the pitch and remained animated on the sidelines throughout the match.

Of course Carlo Ancelotti probably still expected his side – which let us not forget contained a host of multi-million pound stars – to win against a team that started the night in the relegation zone, but the way they almost capitulated against Dortmund in the Champions League quarter-final without Ronaldo should have proved enough evidence of the side's vulnerabilities without the Portuguese superstar, especially as Gareth Bale was also absent.

The flip side is that Ronaldo was genuinely injured last night and was in no condition to continue but that in itself poses more questions than it answers.

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If that was the situation then it would be naïve to think that just a few days rest will make everything okay and Ronaldo will be back firing at his best when the Champions League final comes around.

Maybe he is more hurt than Real are letting on, and the "muscle strain" is a smokescreen for something more serious.

Either way you look at it, it is encouraging for Atletico Madrid in both their bid for the Liga title and the European Cup.

Real are now four points behind their city rivals with just two games remaining, so if Atletico win at home against Malaga on Sunday, Real will be officially out of the title race.

Amazingly though the title is also still in Barcelona's hands. The Catalans looked completely out of the race after a 2-2 draw with Getafe on Saturday but Atletico's surprise defeat to Levante two days later coupled with Real's recent woes means that Barca will win the title if the win their last two games against Elche away and then Atletico at home in a blockbuster final day showdown.

Real seem to have put all their eggs in the Champions League basket. If they lift a 10th European Cup it will all seem worth it. But if they end up without nothing they may look back on this fixture in Valladolid and wonder if that was the night where things all went wrong.

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