Redundant Ronaldo holds Madrid back as Zidane gets it wrong

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The Portuguese failed to get on the scoresheet and did very little as Real avoided an embarrassing defeat by the skin of their teeth in Poland.

Real Madrid’s unbeaten record in 2016-17 remains intact. Zinedine Zidane’s side went 2-0 up away to Legia Warsaw in a game played behind closed doors, but could have lost it as the Polish side took the lead with seven minutes remaining. The good news for Los Blancos is that Mateo Kovacic managed to save their blushes.

But against a side considered by many the worst in the Champions League this season, Madrid should have won this one with ease. That looked likely after Gareth Bale blasted the visitors in front within a minute with a stunning strike and even more so when Karim Benzema added another.

The stage was set for the front three to all convert for the first time this term, but Cristiano Ronaldo cut an increasingly frustrated figure in the centre of the Spanish side’s attack. The Portuguese had flicked on the ball with his head for Bale’s opener, but that was his only memorable contribution – and it was only an assist thanks to the Welshman’s wonder goal anyway.

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Cristiano spent the evening heading over the bar, firing wide of the target, giving the ball away, banging his fist on the turf and appealing for free-kicks and penalties. But his contribution to Madrid’s play was minimal – and when he is not scoring, he can sometimes hold this team back. That was the case here.

Not that it was all his fault. Zidane, in his 100th match as coach including his spell at Madrid’s B team Castilla, sent out a team with four forwards: Bale, Benzema, Cristiano and Morata.

Presumably, the thinking behind that was that the Spain striker deserved a start following his impressive performances off the bench in the last two games. And indeed he did merit an opportunity in the starting XI – but to pick four forwards was perhaps disrespectful to Legia, while Madrid’s shape suffered and it also seemed to send the wrong message to his players.

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It is still not an excuse. But in an empty stadium (the match was played behind closed doors due to a ban for the bad behaviour of Legia ultras), Madrid lacked intensity and allowed their rivals back into the match. Ronaldo was particularly poor, but this was far from the coach’s finest moment either, while the defence was all over the place at times and goalkeeper Keylor Navas at fault for one of the goals.

In the end, a point was rescued as Kovacic curled home and Madrid almost bagged a winner as Lucas Vazquez struck the bar right at the death. But that would have been more than they deserved and Legia were good for their draw in the end.

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It is a poor result for Real and could well jeopardise the club’s chances of finishing top of Group F, in which they are now two points behind Borussia Dortmund.

With a home match against the Germans still to come and a tough trip to Sporting CP as well, Madrid have given themselves more work than needed to secure first place in their sector. But they have nobody but themselves to blame.

On Wednesday, their star player was nowhere near good enough – and nor was their coach.

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