Ronaldo lifts Madrid ahead of big nights

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

Football can be a cruel mistress at times; it regularly occurs that the team desperate for the result does not manage to crawl over the 90th minute finish line.

While the side with more quality, but bigger fish to fry on another day and not too much interest in the outcome, grabs a result and that is what happened in La Coruna on Saturday night.

Real Madrid's season hinges on duels over the next two Tuesdays in Barcelona and Manchester in the Spanish Cup and the Champions League.

They have managed 1-1 draws at home in both first legs against Barca and United. It is now the search for a similar 2-1 away win to what they achieved in Coruna that will decide the legend of Mourinho in the club 'blanco'.

- Higuain scores Real's late winner

Those games sandwich a league game at home to Barca, and all three are more important than Saturday's trip to bottom of the table Deportivo La Coruna which ended with a late winner from an out of sorts Gonzalo Higuain.

Barca's win by the same result two hours later in Sevilla means the gap at the top of the league remains practically unassailable at 16 points with 13 games to play.

Deportivo, rock bottom of La Liga and everyone's second favourite side at the end of the last century and the beginning of the new one, were worth at least a point against a Madrid side that did not come to life until the introduction of Cristiano Ronaldo on 57 minutes.

The Portuguese star emerged from the bench to get Madrid out of jail, not for the first time, after a weak first-half performance against a side that needed the victory more than his did.

Depor, much improved on recent performances, will continue to struggle at the bottom of the table with their third coach of the season, but they looked the better team and had the better chances with the Portuguese duo of Bruno Gama and Pizzi looking likely to take the 'luso' limelight until Ronaldo appeared.

Riki gave the Galicians a deserved first-half lead and it looked like a defence that had leaked three goals a game in four consecutive games would have an unlikely comfortable night until the hour mark.

So the positives for Madrid: A victory in La Coruna that now makes it two in 21 years and a much needed confidence-boosting victory ahead of the bigger battles to come.

Also, Pepe managed his first 90 minutes of 2013 in the centre of defence alongside Ricardo Carvalho, who could yet become an important reserve in the games to come.

What is obvious, however, is Real will need more support for Ronaldo from players like Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Luka Modric, Jose Callejon and, if fit, Karim Benzema if they are to progress in either of the cup competitions left this season.

The Deportivo fans, some of the best in the La Liga, will not abandon their team, but it is looking bad for a side that is nine points from salvation with their best player on the wrong side of 35.

Juan Carlos Valeron was brilliant at times on Saturday, his retention of the ball spectacular. But his better, more penetrating football came more than a decade ago and Deportivo now look like they need snookers, or a miracle, to escape an almost certain second relegation in three years.

For Madrid, Ronaldo is like a super-charged version of Valeron, with more pace, power and almost ten years less. He makes things happen for his side and quickly.

Starting from the bench, he needed just more than thirty minutes in La Coruna to give his side attacking options, and he ultimately made the two goals that Madrid lacked before his appearance.

He still lacks a goal in Riazor, the only major Spanish stadium in which he is still to score, but he was aided by a resurgent Kaka who might also still be considered important to the cause this season, if Mourinho allows him to be.

The Brazilian was his side's most dangerous player before Ronaldo arrived and sweetly struck the equaliser just when Madrid needed it before Ronaldo did the rest of the damage to Deportivo from the left hand side.

The Portuguese speedster continuously hugged the left wing looking for a way through, and it finally came when he linked with Mesut Ozil to lay the winner on a plate for Higuian with two minutes remaining.

The winner broke Deportivo hearts, especially that of the young 'Galleguina' to my right in a bar in the Spanish capital, but the writing is on the wall for a side with by far the worst defensive record in the league.

Deportivo looked the part for an hour, but Ronaldo woke Madrid up and brought a much-needed urgency. Whether he can lift his teammates to do it again on bigger stages over the next ten days remains to be seen.

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