Anatomy of a Classic Goal: Ronaldo's bicycle kick vs. Juventus

As we eagerly await the return of world football, we’re taking this opportunity to look back on some of the most memorable goals ever scored. Going frame by frame, we’ll dissect how, exactly, these epic moments came to fruition.

Who, what, and when?

  • Goalscorer: Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
  • Match: Juventus vs. Real Madrid
  • Competition: Champions League (round of 16, first leg)
  • Date: April 3, 2018

As the all-time leading scorer in Champions League history, Cristiano Ronaldo naturally has several doozies in his Rolodex to pick from. None, however, are more memorable than the instantly famous bicycle kick he delivered against his current side, Juventus, at the Allianz Stadium back in 2018.

In case you haven’t already seen it 1,000 times, here’s the goal:

Going frame by frame, it’s fascinating to see all the little machinations that came together to create this jaw-dropping moment.

Here’s how Ronaldo, who was in the midst of a red-hot run that saw him score 19 goals in just nine matches for Real Madrid, produced one of the most unforgettable tallies in Champions League history.

Chiellini and Buffon get flustered

The entire sequence looks innocuous enough to begin with. A long cross-field ball from Marcelo seeks out Ronaldo but doesn’t find its mark. As it skips off the wet surface and bounces toward the Juventus penalty area, veteran duo Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon appear to have everything under control.

At this point, Chiellini, who’s never been shy about launching a clearance into the stratosphere when under pressure, has two options. He can send the ball into orbit and allow his teammates to regain their defensive structure, or he can shield the ball from Ronaldo and allow his goalkeeper to collect it, ending the threat right there. Easy enough, right?

It should’ve been:

Source: UEFA

Instead, in a rare moment of panic, the Italian defender gets squirrelly. Having played together for what feels like an eternity, you’d think the two grizzled Italians would handle situations like this in their sleep. But there’s a moment of hesitation, and Chiellini, in trying to make a last-second clearance, meekly pokes the ball into the corner, away from Buffon but not far enough to get out of play:

Source: UEFA

This is where everything falls apart for the vaunted Juventus backline, and where Ronaldo shows off his goalscoring instincts inside the penalty area.

Mad scramble

The Portuguese star doesn’t have the same raw pace that he once did – even going back a couple of years – but he tracks the ball down before it crosses the line. Buffon’s out of his goal, while Chiellini and defensive partner Andrea Barzagli are retreating frantically to cover the suddenly gaping net:

Source: UEFA

Ronaldo finds the onrushing Lucas Vazquez, whose left-footed effort is acrobatically palmed away by a leaping Buffon – not bad for someone who, at the time, was on the verge of his 40th birthday. Of course, that wasn’t the end of the danger.

It’s important to note Ronaldo’s positioning after he lays the ball back to Vazquez. In the furor of the play, Ronaldo, incredibly, gets lost by the Juventus defenders:

UEFA / theScore Illustration

If there was one player you’d think you would always be aware of …

Losing your marker

After Buffon’s save, the ball rebounds to Dani Carvajal. By this point, Juventus have largely regained a solid defensive structure and, on the surface, appear to be in pretty good shape. I mean, they’ve got six defenders in the box, compared to just three Real Madrid attackers.

The issue, of course, is that both Barzagli and Mattia De Sciglio seem nonplussed by the fact that Ronaldo is hanging out in the penalty area, practically by himself. It’s wild when you say it out loud – this is one of the most prolific scorers of all time, after all – but when watching the sequence over and over again, that’s the most stunning takeaway. As was the case with Chiellini and Buffon earlier, the apparent lack of communication between Barzagli and De Sciglio is staggering:

UEFA / theScore Illustration

Throughout the entire sequence, this is the only time Barzagli looks over his shoulder to check on Ronaldo’s position:

UEFA / theScore Illustration

Seeing his Real Madrid counterpart behind him, he instantly starts backpedaling in an effort to get on the goal side of the attacker. Ronaldo, meanwhile, makes a break for the penalty area. Simultaneously, the two men spring in different directions:

UEFA / theScore Illustration

A quick aside: Had Carvajal lofted the ball to the back post, this entire sequence of play – interesting as it was in showcasing how forwards try to exploit spaces inside the box – would have fizzled out and been lost to history. Instead, he delivered the ball right to the penalty spot. Prior to this memorable tally, Ronaldo had been trying to score this exact goal for years, with little success. There’s every reason to believe this had been choreographed in training many times.

Okay, back to the breakdown. De Sciglio, who had to keep one eye on Vazquez lurking near the top of the box, recognizes what’s about to happen with Ronaldo about a fraction too late. He makes a late effort to reach the ball first, but it’s in vain, and he gets posterized in the process.

More importantly, look where Barzagli and Ronaldo end up as the latter is just about to make contact with the cross. They’ve basically swapped positions:

Source: UEFA

Thanks for coming out, Mattia:

Source: UEFA

In the end, a series of unlikely defensive breakdowns create the opportunity, and Ronaldo takes full advantage.

The reaction shots

And now for the most amusing (and enjoyable) part of it all. There are three notable reactions in the following shot alone – from Barzagli, Buffon, and Isco, who saunters into the top of the frame:

Source: UEFA

The Juventus netminder is rooted to his spot. It’s part exasperation – his great save just seconds ago was all for naught – and part shock. Isco can’t believe what’s just happened, as evidenced by his hand-on-head response. But the Oscar goes to the bemused Barzagli, who simply throws up his arms and admits defeat:

Source: UEFA

What can you do in that situation? Nothing, except applaud a superhuman athletic feat, which is exactly what the Juventus supporters did en masse. Whether that ovation actually helped in Ronaldo’s decision to later join the Italian club, as he’s claimed, is up for debate, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

The final word here goes to Zinedine Zidane, the Real Madrid manager who knows a thing or two about crafting memorable Champions League moments. This is someone widely credited with delivering the most iconic goal in the history of the tournament, and even he was absolutely floored by Ronaldo’s bicycle kick.

That may be the most impressive thing about all of this.

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