Cristiano Ronaldo is off the mark in Serie A with three goals in six games, giving Juventus fans their first real glimpse of what to expect from a five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
For most footballers, a goal every other game is considered good returns, but for the man who scored 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid, that just won’t do, not when he has set the bar so stratospherically high over the past decade.
But can Ronaldo really deliver like he did in Spain?
“It’s true that in Italy, football is more tactical and defensive, as well as being very physical, so you have to know how to play.” Ronaldo’s former teammate and Napoli defender, Raul Albiol, told AS.
Over the past five years, La Liga has seen just 57 more goals than in Serie A (5239 to 5182) and so it’s hard to reconcile the myths of Italian football’s unbreakable defences and La Liga’s lax backlines.
What is true is that individuals in Italy have failed to register the kind of numbers seen in La Liga. Just once in the past five years has a Serie A player scored more than 30 goals, and never has the top scorer in the league beaten their equivalent in Spain.
“Cristiano’s a great player with tremendous quality, but in Italy it’ll be harder for him to score 40 goals.” Added Albiol. Challenge accepted, says Ronaldo.
And it will be a challenge, not least because of Italian football’s penchant for stifling superstars.
The Benzema effect
At Madrid, Ronaldo has left behind a formidable assistant to his decade of dominance, Karim Benzema.
Alongside Ronaldo, Benzema was criticised and even booed for his lack of goals, but Zinedine Zidane, Rafael Benitez, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho all kept him in the side for a reason. They recognised the impact the Frenchman had on getting the most out of star man Ronaldo, an invaluable trait in itself.
Benzema was the ultimate foil to the Portuguese, keeping defenders busy and second-guessing with his movement in the final third. As Ronaldo’s pace eventually waned and forced him into a more central role, Benzema adapted by dropping deeper into number 10.
The Frenchman’s goal tally diminished, but his link-up play and work rate became imperative to Ronaldo’s continued success and his ability to defy his age - he also provided Ronaldo with assists than any other player at Madrid.
At Juventus, Ronaldo still has great players behind him. Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa can cause a myriad of problems to the world’s best defences.
But it will take time – Benzema had nine years to perfect the art of enabling Ronaldo – and as his teammates do adapt and learn how best to accommodate their record signing, the Portuguese striker’s capacity for goals will continue to grow, and this Juventus side will become a truly fearsome prospect.
But can he score 40?
In a league set out to frustrate him, and without the services of a teammate who has dedicated the best part of his career to helping Ronaldo score, registering such numbers in Serie A in a season when he turns 34 is surely his greatest test. But it would also be his finest individual achievement.
In his first month in Italy, there have been signs of frustration, with so many shots – even by his standards – flying from all angles in a bid to get on the scoresheet. He was also dismissed for an uncharacteristic offence in the Champions League against Valencia, and will miss the next match in his favourite competition.
But credit to Ronaldo. It would have been so easy for him to have seen out the twilight of his career for even larger sums of money in the emerging footballing markets of China or America, but his desire to continue at the highest level is indicative of the drive that has taken him to the very top, and the challenge of conquering a third league irresistible to him.
Ronaldo pushes himself out of his comfort zone in his bid to improve, to become even greater and build upon his already outstanding legacy.
This is yet another chance to do so, and all while his famous Argentinian rival sits safely in Spain.