Real Madrid began the defence of their Champions League crown with a 3-0 win over APOEL Nicosia at the Bernabeu on Wednesday

Real Madrid returned to winning ways in style on Wednesday, kicking off the defence of their UEFA Champions League title in strong fashion, with a comfortable 3-0 win over APOEL Nicosia in a Group H Matchday 1 tie at Santiago Bernabeu.

Cristiano Ronaldo, making a return to competitive action in club football after almost a month, took just 12 minutes to get his name back on the scoresheet as he scored from a close-range finish. The Portuguese forward then doubled his and Los Blancos‘ tally a few minutes into the second half as he converted from the spot.

The win was rounded off at the hour mark when Sergio Ramos reacted well to put Gareth Bale’s ricocheted header into the back of the net with an acrobatic overhead effort. Zinedine Zidane and co. thus, notched up their first win since the first gameweek in La Liga.

Real Madrid now sit at the top of Group H, ahead of Tottenham – who beat Borussia Dortmund – on goal difference. The Hard Tackle takes a look at some of the major talking points that emerged from Wednesday’s encounter at the Bernabeu.

Record-Breaking Ronaldo Rampant on Return

It’s not everyday that you’d see Real Madrid fans waiting in anticipation to face a side that are minnows in Europe’s premier competition, but APOEL Nicosia managed to be different. Not anything from their doing though.

The match was being hyped up due to the eagerly awaited return of Real Madrid talisman Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese front-man has not featured in league action for Los Blancos, due to a five-game ban that he is serving due to his actions following his dismissal in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.

Nevertheless, he returned to action in club football on Wednesday, and in style, as he grabbed a well deserved brace, only being denied another Champions League hat-trick by a superb save from Boy Waterman.

In the process, Ronaldo many a record as well. The Portuguese superstar’s goal tally is more than 116 other teams that have participated in the Champions League. Additionally, he has now scored more goal at home (55), as well as the penalty spot (12) than his fabled rival, Lionel Messi. A record-breaking night for the raging Ronaldo.

An Alternative Solution To Number Nine Woes?

While the Champions League kick-off turned out to be an easy outing, it has been far from ideal in domestic competitions for Zinedine Zidane and co., who have managed to win just one of their three games in La Liga thus far.

A major reason attributed to the disappointing run of results is their profligacy in front of goal. In particular, Karim Benzema has been found wanting for lackadaisical finishing in his outings thus far. His poor form has prompted fans to ask for the Frenchman’s ouster at a time when Zidane is already short of a recognised striker.

Indeed, the Real Madrid boss too, has shed light on the issue, recently claiming that Alvaro Morata’s departure has left him short of a number nine. However, Ronaldo’s performance on the night perhaps showed that Zidane only needs to look closer to home to find a solution to this particular problem.

Ronaldo had a relatively quiet night apart from the goals that he scored, and was rather efficient with his finishing, which is something that Real Madrid fans have been yearning for from their striker.

Having been used as a striker on several occasions last season as well, it would not be farfetched to think that Ronaldo just might be the number nine Zidane has been looking for.

Bale, The Fighter

While Ronaldo seems to be going from strength to strength, season after season, there’s one man who hasn’t quite had the best of times as a Real Madrid player recently.

Gareth Bale, who had quickly established himself as one of the most pivotal figures at the Bernabeu upon his arrival in 2013 has spent more time on the sidelines than on the field in the last two seasons due to a spate of unfortunate injuries.

This season though, while he has looked fit and raring to go, form has deserted him in the early part of the campaign. However, on Wednesday, Bale provided a reminder of just how dangerous he can be when on song as he was involved in each of the goals that Real Madrid scored.

With Marco Asensio threatening to usurp him as a regular, the time is right for the Welshman to up his game and prove his credentials all over again to remain one of the most indispensable figures at the Bernabeu.

The Widening Gulf Between The Elite And Minnows In Europe

European football finally returned this week, but it also brought with itself a rather cruel reminder. The gap in football between the super rich elite clubs and the rest of the teams is widening with each passing season.

The influence that money is wielding in football is tipping the power scales in Europe just that bit further than it already was with the PSGs, the Manchester Uniteds and the Real Madrids, among others far ahead of the chasing pack.

As a result, more often than not, the group stage in the Champions League becomes more of a formality for the big clubs than a competition right from the earliest stages. That’s why, it was unsurprising to see the aforementioned teams and the other bigwigs in Europe kick off their campaign with easy wins, with progression to the next round expected.

Positives For APOEL Despite The Apparent Gulf

The draw has not been kind to the Cypriot champions, who find themselves in company of three of Europe’s biggest clubs – sides that boast three of the most formidable attacking units in the continent. Therefore, one cannot be faulted for thinking that APOEL Nicosia are there to just make up the numbers.

However, even with such over the top odds of getting anything from their six matches in the group stage, Giorgos Donis’ men have the means to be one of the most impressive outfits in the competition. In Calao and Jesus Rueda, the APOEL boss has two centre-backs that give very little in terms of space.

In fact, the central defensive pairing was only undone when their defensive partners on either side left too much space for Real Madrid’s wide men to exploit. Up ahead Roland Sallai and Igor de Camargo are two hard working forwards who can make a mark, if fed well enough.

However, overly defensive tactics will not help Donis in the longer run, as the style will only seek to delay the inevitable instead of getting them the all-important goals. Nevertheless, the Cypriots did have some positives to show for their efforts, something they can build on in the coming games.

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