In finding the back of the net against Verona on Saturday Cristiano Ronaldo set a new Juventus, becoming the first player to score in 10 straight games for the Bianconeri. But while the Portuguese forward has found his shooting boots in recent weeks, Juve have allowed their grip on top spot in Serie A to slip, suffering three league defeats since the start of December. Ronaldo’s excellent individual form has been set against a much gloomier backdrop for his team as a whole.
By making the move to Turin in the summer of 2018, Ronaldo was forced to adapt his game. At Real Madrid, everything was built around the Portuguese international. He’d been at the Santiago Bernabeu long enough to install himself as the focal point of the club both on and off the pitch. His astonishing goalscoring numbers illustrated this.
At Juventus, though, Ronaldo was initially expected to fit into a team already accustomed to winning. His goal tally of 21 goals in his first Serie A season was hardly disgraceful, but it did represent quite a drop-off from the numbers he’d consistently tallied during his time at Real Madrid. For example, Ronaldo scored 15 goals in the Champions League alone in his final season in Spain.
Now, Ronaldo finally looks to be making Juventus’ system work for him, but that is costing his team as a whole. Saturday’s defeat to Verona, coupled with Inter’s derby win over AC Milan, saw Juventus slip to second place in Serie A. Another poor result this weekend could see them drop to third, with Inter facing Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico.
Juventus are still 4/5 favourites to win a ninth straight Scudetto, but this season they are facing the strongest challenge to their supremacy for years. Not even Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli side of two years ago pushed the Old Lady as far as Antonio Conte’s Inter and Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio are pushing them right now.
While Ronaldo’s scoring streak of 17 goals in his last 13 games has boosted his numbers, Ciro Immobile is still setting the pace at the top of the Serie A scoring charts, with an incredible 25 goals in 23 appearances this season. The Italian international is 1/4 to finish the 2019/20 campaign as the top scorer in Italy’s top flight (Ronaldo is 4/1) and as long as he keeps scoring Lazio must be taken seriously as title contenders.
Sarri’s appointment at the Allianz Stadium last summer suggested that Juventus wanted to head in a new direction. For decades, this has been a club defined by their desire to win. Winning was Juve’s identity as a club. Sarri, though, is a coach who values much more than just the final outcome. For him, the method of getting there matters almost as much.
This managerial hire was also at odds with Ronaldo’s ideology. The Portuguese forward has adapted his approach, from his early years as a mercurial winger to more recently as a ruthless centre forward, to get the most from his game even as he ages towards 40. Now he is working under a manager who wants his players to consider their wider role and purpose in the team unit.
Gonzalo Higuain is now acting as Ronaldo’s foil, taking on the role that Karim Benzema played for the Portuguese at Real Madrid for years. The 4-3-3 shape used by Sarri of late looks to be a better fit for Ronaldo, but this formation costs Juventus control in the centre of the pitch. Questions are being asked of Blaise Matuidi, Adrien Rabiot, Aaron Ramsey and Miralem Pjanic.
Faced with something of a career crossroads 18 months ago, Ronaldo decided that a move to Turin would help sustain him at the top of the European game. Truly cracking Juventus, however, is turning into the biggest challenge of the 35-year-old’s career to date. Maybe even for the first time in Ronaldo’s long and illustrious career, there’s no guarantee of a happy ending.