To say that Gonzalo Higuaín is enjoying a decent spell of form at the moment would be something of an understatement.
In the last two weeks, he has scored three hat-tricks in four games for club and country. After netting three in Real Madrid's 4-0 win at Espanyol on October 2, he repeated the trick five days later to inspire Argentina to a 4-1 triumph against Chile in their opening 2014 World Cup qualifying match in Buenos Aires. His three crisp finishes in Madrid's 4-1 defeat of Real Betis at the Bernabéu on Saturday could have accompanied a dictionary definition of the word 'aplomb' and catapulted him to second place in the La Liga scoring charts, two goals behind the irrepressible Lionel Messi.
Having started the season playing second fiddle to Karim Benzema, Higuaín came into the starting XI for the 6-2 thrashing of Rayo Vallecano on September 24 and his influence has helped right the Madrid ship after five points were dropped in consecutive away games against Levante and Racing Santander. With 14 goals in their last three matches, Madrid have closed the gap on leaders Barcelona to a single point and are beginning to more closely resemble the team that plundered an astonishing 102 goals in last season's championship.
Higuaín's exploits have also had the side-effect of obliging Cristiano Ronaldo to adopt the unfamiliar role of a support act. The Portuguese teed up his strike partner's first goal against Espanyol and unselfishly set up the Argentine's opener against Betis on Saturday, as well as providing the pass from which Kaká claimed Madrid's second, but did not score himself in either game.
Playing alongside Higuaín seems to make Ronaldo a less selfish player. On the three occasions that they have started league games alongside each other this season, Ronaldo has contributed four assists, compared to just one in the same number of starts with Benzema. He also shoots less, averaging 5.67 shots at goal per game with Higuaín but 10 per game alongside the Frenchman.
The statistics over the last two seasons add weight to the theory that Ronaldo is more inclined to adopt the role of a creator - and suppress his own goalscoring instincts - when Higuaín is in the team. Since the start of the 2009-10 campaign, Ronaldo has started 39 league games alongside Higuaín, scoring 40 goals at a rate of 1.03 per game. Over the same period, Ronaldo's goals-per-game ratio when he starts alongside Benzema is slightly higher, at 1.125. The assist figures tell a similar story. With Benzema next to him at kick-off, Ronaldo produces an average of 0.25 assists per match. Alongside Higuaín, that figure climbs to 0.41.
So does the mere sight of Higuaín bring out Ronaldo's magnanimous side, or is it a question of tactics and player aptitudes? Average position diagrams and heat map data strongly suggest the latter. When Benzema and Ronaldo are named in the same starting line-up, they tend to play fairly close together, with Benzema roaming the pitch laterally and content to run at defenders from wide positions, giving Ronaldo room to burst into the penalty area.
With Higuaín it is a different story. Unlike Benzema, the Argentine's strengths rely on working the channels and making runs behind the opposition defence. He therefore spends more time in the opposing box, forcing Ronaldo to adhere more strictly to the territory on the left side of the pitch.
For Real manager José Mourinho, the choice appears fairly simple. Playing Benzema and Ronaldo together means Ronaldo scores more goals but it also makes the team more dependent upon him, while fielding the more prolific Higuaín alongside Ronaldo lightens the goalscoring burden on the Portuguese but renders him less effective in front of goal.
Madrid's fans might not have a preference for who partners their record signing in attack, provided their team continue to win, but Messi would surely appreciate the irony if his international colleague Higuaín inadvertently helped him take the Pichichi back from his great rival.
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European Team of the Week (as selected by Opta)
Goalkeeper: Roberto (Granada v Atletico Madrid)
Clean sheet - eight saves made - 69.23% distribution accuracy
Right-back: Romain Danze (Rennes v Lorient)
Clean sheet - 83.33% passing accuracy - seven recoveries
Centre-back: Eric Abidal (Barcelona v Racing Santander)
Clean sheet - 97.5% passing accuracy - seven clearances
Centre-back: Chris Samba (Queens Park Rangers v Blackburn Rovers)
One goal scored - 11 clearances - 10 touches in opposition box
Left-back: Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich v Hertha Berlin)
Clean sheet - 96.11% passing accuracy - 100% tackle success rate
Right midfield: Chris Eagles (Wigan Athletic v Bolton Wanderers)
One goal scored - one assist - 100% shooting accuracy
Central midfield: Benjamin Corgnet (Montpellier v Dijon)
Two goals scored - one assist - 100% shooting accuracy
Central midfield: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich v Hertha Berlin)
One goal scored - 90.46% passing accuracy - 80% dribble success rate
Left midfield: Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich v Hertha Berlin)
Two goals scored - one assist - 100% goals to shots ratio
Striker: Kevin Gameiro (Ajaccio v Paris Saint-Germain)
Three goals scored - 42.86% goals to shots ratio - nine touches in opposition box
Striker: Olivier Giroud (Montpellier v Dijon)
Three goals scored - 100% goals to shots ratio - four key passes