Our Real Madrid reporter Joe Walker watched UEFA Best Player in Europe nominee Cristiano Ronaldo throughout 2014/15 – here he explains why the Portuguese was picked.
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Cristiano Ronaldo reached new heights last term as he helped Real Madrid to UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup glory while also playing a pivotal role in the Whites' run to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
The Portugal captain started the 2014/15 campaign with both goals as Madrid beat Sevilla 2-0 in Cardiff, before netting an incredible 26 in his first 15 top-flight outings. Ronaldo would go on to finish as the Liga's leading marksman for the second year running, scoring 48 times in just 35 appearances.
The forward's form remained consistent throughout yet another record-breaking season. He registered hat-tricks against Espanyol and Getafe – moving him to 27 Liga trebles, three ahead of nearest contender Lionel Messi – in Madrid's last two fixtures and notched five goals in a game for the first time in his career as the Merengues thumped Granada 9-1, their biggest Liga victory since 1967.
Nor were his prolific feats limited to domestic competition, Ronaldo hitting the target on five occasions as Madrid topped UEFA Champions League Group B with a perfect six wins. However, it was in the knockout phase where the 30-year-old truly excelled.
With Ronaldo having struck the first-leg opener as Madrid prevailed 2-0 at Schalke in the round of 16, it seemed a formality that the holders would progress to the quarter-finals. The German outfit had other ideas, though, and twice took a first-half lead at the Santiago Bernabéu, only for the former Sporting CP and Manchester United player to cancel out both goals as the ten-time winners squeezed through 5-4 on aggregate.
Following seven winless matches against city rivals Atlético Madrid, including the first instalment of the quarter-final, the second leg appeared destined for extra time – until Ronaldo received possession on the right with two minutes remaining. Charging at the Rojiblanos' defence, Ronaldo beat three men before playing a one-two with James Rodríguez to set up Javier Hernández for the decisive goal. It was the sort of inspirational moment that Santiago Bernabéu regulars have become used to seeing over the past six years.
Ultimately, despite semi-final heartache against Juventus, the Portuguese was the joint-top UEFA Champions League scorer with ten goals and is level with Messi on 77 at the head of the all-time list. In terms of overall UEFA club competitions, Ronaldo also shares the lead with the Argentinian on 80 strikes to further reiterate his status in the elite game.