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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Cristiano Ronaldo may be slow out of the blocks for Juventus but that can change against Sassuolo

The Portuguese forward has yet to score in Serie A but he has often taken a few games to find his scoring touch in the past

Cristiano Ronaldo has had a frustrating start to life at Juventus, in terms of scoring goals, but history suggests he will still come good for the Italian champions. AFP Photo
Cristiano Ronaldo has had a frustrating start to life at Juventus, in terms of scoring goals, but history suggests he will still come good for the Italian champions. AFP Photo

He is a creature of habit, Cristiano Ronaldo, all the way from his regimented, demanding gym regimes to his umbrage when award ceremonies do not bend in his direction.

Ronaldo drew some criticism for his absence from the handing out of Uefa’s garlands for the outstanding individuals of their year at the beginning of this month. Unusually, there was not a prize with his name on it.

There is, as yet, no Serie A goal with his name on it either, contrary to most forecasts about the early impact he would have on Juventus, who signed Ronaldo for a reported €100 million (Dh426.7m) from Real Madrid in July, and watched gleefully as their club's share price soared and Italy’s top division gained in prestige.

Juve, with maximum points so far, have taken up their customary position at the summit of that league without Ronaldo on the scoresheet.

With their superstar rested after two weeks vacation from international duty with Portugal, they anticipate the dam blocking CR7's goals is about to break.

There are several reasons to expect Ronaldo to get off the mark on Sunday.

He is not out of form exactly for one. He has had 23 shots at goal in 270 minutes for Juve so far. Something has to give.

Ronaldo also has a habit, since he reached his 30s, of running through the gears a little through Augusts, finding his groove.

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Last season, his first three La Liga matches for Madrid also produced no goals, and he had been suspended for the four league fixtures before those. He still ended up with 26 goals for the league campaign, in 27 games.

The year before that, 2016-17, Ronaldo had a post-Euro 2016 injury to shrug off and, after registering one goal in his first four La Liga marches, took flight, to finish up contributing 25 goals to Madrid’s title triumph.

In 2015-16, he scored in only one of his first seven league matches; mind you, he hit five in that single demolition of Espanyol. A further 30 Liga goals followed between mid-October and the season’s end.

Ronaldo will be back in Spain next Wednesday, for Juventus’s opening Uefa Champions League group game, at Valencia.

Having the European Cup on his radar is usually a reliable stimulus. In normal circumstances, a visit to Turin from Sassuolo would be too.

The guests at the fourth week in Italy of The Ronaldo Show, this weekend, have only taken four points out of a possible 30 from Juve since they were promoted to Serie A in 2013.

Yet right now they look very unlike the Sassuolo who were blitzed by Juve 7-0 - Gonzalo Higuain grabbed a 20-minute hat-trick - on their last visit, in February.

Going into this weekend, Sassuolo are, surprisingly, second to Juve in the table. They are Serie A’s leading scorers, with eight, including the five they struck in a wild, eight-goal see-saw win over Genoa just before the international break.

Inter Milan had already been defeated on the opening weekend, and the club’s own high-profile summer recruit has so far had more obvious impact on the field than Ronaldo has for the champions.

He is Kevin-Prince Boateng, the 31-year-old who, like Ronaldo, has played in World Cups, and spread his career across various major leagues in Europe.

They range from his maverick young days in his native Germany - he went on to represent Ghana, where his father comes from, as a senior international - to spells with Tottenham Hotspur and Portsmouth in England and a successful period with AC Milan.

Since then Boateng, older brother of Bayern Munich's Jerome, has played in Spain's top division and won the German Cup with Eintracht Frankfurt last season.

Sassuolo identified him as a positive addition to a squad that is younger than average in Serie A, a useful, worldly influence in the dressing-room, with drive and invention in attacking midfield.

Boateng would be the first to admit not everything he has done in his career should be held up as an example.

“I wasn’t always as professional as I should have been when I was young,” he told reporters last week. But he is a competitor and, as his stands against racism in Italian football demonstrated in the past, he is gutsy.

Boateng has struck two goals this season already, and, in his maturity, has developed a nice line in self-deprecation.

Asked if he was Sassuolo’s answer to Ronaldo - who he last played against for Las Palmas in a 3-3 draw at Real Madrid two seasons ago, both men scoring - Boateng smiled: “Yes, only with a difference of about 500 goals.”