Real manager Carlo Ancelotti has quite rightly been lavished with praise after moulding his collection of superstars into a ruthless winning machine. Ancelotti is due those plaudits. However, his use of Cristiano Ronaldo has become reckless.
That statement may appear counter-intuitive considering the Portuguese's blistering start to the campaign. Thus far he has played 21 games and scored 28 goals. While much of the focus has been on the goals scored it is the games played that should actually be cause for concern.
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Ronaldo had a torrid World Cup blighted by injury. There was talk of a knee injury seriously curtailing his playing prowess. He had been over-worked and his body reacted accordingly. Thankfully the knee injury appears to have dissipated and those stark warnings appeared a touch premature but it was a warning sign.
Unfortunately, that warning has not been heeded. The disregard of that warning continued on Tuesday night in the Bernabeu where Ronaldo was selected to start in a dead rubber against Ludogorets.
Regular starters Dani Carvajal, Karim Benzema, Pepe and Iker Casillas were all rested for the game.
Having already topped the group, Real had no requirement to win the game. There is no such thing as a certainty in sport but Real's superior class - against a team that were founded a mere 13 years ago - would have seen them win with or without Ronaldo. The decision to select him was remiss.
Granted, Ronaldo scored. But his - and Madrid's interests - would have been better served by resting him. Simple maths dictates that playing every game puts the Portuguese hero at greater risk of injury. It is an obvious point but why risk injury in a meaningless match?
Ronaldo has played more minutes and run further than any other Real Madrid player in the Champions League this season. According to UEFA's official website, he has run 56259m over the course of 525 minutes on the pitch.
The fact that Ronaldo emerged from the game unscathed misses the point. Fatigue is one of the key factors in players sustaining soft tissue injuries. Arsene Wenger recently spoke of Alexis Sanchez entering an injury red zone after a sustained period of playing.
Wenger admitted that the aforementioned red zone is not an exact science: "Unfortunately you never know how far you can push a player. We are not scientific enough to predict that completely," said Wenger.
One must wonder how far Ronaldo is from said red zone.
So much of Ronaldo's exceptional ability leans on his incredible physical prowess. He is a monster of a man who plays at nothing other than 100%. Other players may have run further - take cross-town rivals Atletico's Koke, who has covered 73774m in 540 minutes - but few run with the intensity of Ronaldo. That intensity surely only makes him a bigger injury risk.
Ronaldo is Real's key man and playing him in meaningless games such as Ludogorets increases the risk of him being unavailable for other more important games. Granted, it is probably the player's wish to feature in as many games as possible to furnish to his already mesmerising goal statistics but it is Ancelotti's job to protect his players.
For that reason, Ancelotti, for all his wonderful successes at Madrid these last two seasons, is taking a reckless and unnecessary risk with Ronaldo.
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Marcus Foley
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