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The Portuguese scored twice and assisted another against Athletic Bilbao as he delivered against a top team for the first time this term, a huge boost for Real Madrid


Cristiano Ronaldo needed a game like this. The Portuguese forward has maintained his spectacular scoring stats in 2015-16 but he had failed to net against a top team in the current campaign. That changed on Saturday, though - and it's excellent news for Real Madrid.

Before facing Athletic Bilbao, Ronaldo had hit 30 in 29 games in all competitions this term, yet none of those had come versus Valencia, Villarreal, Sevilla, Atletico, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain (in either of two games) or the Basque side.

In the meantime, the Portuguese has filled his boots against teams like Shakhtar Donetsk, Espanyol, Eibar, Malmo, Levante and the like. He had also netted in fewer then 50 per cent of his appearances. A world-beater for much of his brilliant career, he had turned into a flat-track bully.

So eyebrows were raised earlier in the week when Zinedine Zidane said in an interview with Mexican newspaper Record that "Ronaldo is the best player in the world". There has been little in recent weeks and months to back up such a claim.

But on Saturday Ronaldo looked much more like the player who netted against all and sundry in seasons gone by. The 31-year-old opened the scoring after just three minutes as he took up a pass from Karim Benzema, sidestepped an Athletic defender and curled a fine finish into the corner.

Later, he found Toni Kroos in the area for the third goal just before the break and, in the closing stages, he scored his second as he brought down a cross from Lucas Vazquez and beat Gorka Iraizoz with another clinical strike. Two goals and an assist against a top team: a timely return to form for the Portuguese.

The 31-year-old had been back out on the wing in his natural habitat after spending most of his time in the centre over the past year or so and Zidane said that the move was a deliberate one.

FULL STORY | Ronaldo on the double as Madrid beat Athletic

"That's what we were looking for," the Frenchman said afterwards. "For me, Cristiano is very important on the wing and, with Athletic's players all pressing together, there was more space on the wing. That was the idea and that's how the first goal arrived. Toni won the ball back and Cristiano in a one-on-one situation, it's difficult to stop him."

Asked again later about Cristiano, in his post-match press conference, Zidane replied: "What can I say? You are here to opine on whether he has played well or whether he is finished. Today he showed again that he's de puta madre [a slang term meaning great] and I'm happy."

So he should be. Ronaldo's two goals mean that he is now provisionally the top scorer in La Liga with 21 goals ahead of Barca's home match against Celta Vigo on Sunday, when he could be caught or overtaken by Luis Suarez (currently on 20). The Portuguese has now also been involved in 29 goals in the top flight this term - more than anybody else.

He just hadn't been doing it against the top teams and, in that respect, the double against Athletic will give him confidence for tougher tests ahead in the next few days and weeks.

Those start with a trip to Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday before a derby at home to Atletico at the end of February and, ahead of those matches, Zidane will be pleased to see his star player back to the sort of form that saw him win the Ballon d'Or twice before missing out to Lionel Messi earlier in 2016.

Perhaps Zidane's assertion that he is the "best player in the world" was a motivational technique. The two men also spent a while speaking on the sidelines in the first half of this match and the Frenchman clearly has Ronaldo's respect, which never appered to be the case with Rafa Benitez.

Whatever Zidane is doing and saying to Cristiano, it worked on Saturday and Madrid fans will hope that it continues in the latter part of the season because, if Ronaldo can consistently deliver against the top teams in the remainder of the campaign, Madrid's chances of success will be far greater.