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Modric says others needed to step up when Ronaldo left

MADRID (AP) With Real Madrid faltering in attack, Luka Modric is feeling the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Modric, who replaced Ronaldo as the winner of the world’s best player award, said Monday that things would be different for Real Madrid if the Portugal forward hadn’t left to join Juventus last year.

“Every team would miss a player like Cristiano. It’s almost impossible to find someone to replace him. Of course we miss him,” Modric said a day before Madrid hosts Ajax in the second leg of the round of 16 in the Champions League.

[READ: UCL Last 16 Score Predictions]

Madrid won the first leg 2-1 three weeks ago in the Netherlands.

Madrid’s struggling attack was blamed for the team’s consecutive home losses to Barcelona last week, results that eliminated the club from the Copa del Rey and practically ended its hopes of winning the Spanish league title.

“What the club tried to do after Ronaldo left was to have other players take over his role in the attack, sharing the responsibility. But that is not something easy to do,” said Modric, the Croatia midfielder who played with Ronaldo for six seasons.

“Maybe some of the players needed to step up and, maybe not score 50 goals, but at least those goals that we haven’t been able to score. Maybe we needed two or three players who could score 15 or 20 or 10 goals each. But we don’t have that. I think that’s our biggest problem this season.”

Real Madrid was held scoreless in the losses to Barcelona despite creating many significant opportunities at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. The team’s forwards came close to scoring several times but were not able to capitalize on their chances.

“When that happens against a quality opponent, you will get punished,” Modric said.

This is Madrid’s first season in nearly a decade without Ronaldo, who led the team to four Champions League titles, including the last three in a row. The club has not made any major signings since he left, sticking to the players it already had.

“Cristiano is not here anymore and we can’t keep complaining about it for the next 10 years,” Modric said. “The club has faith in players like Gareth (Bale), (Marco) Asensio and Karim (Benzema). It added Mariano (Diaz) to the squad, and Vinicius Junior is showing that he has potential. But sometimes things don’t go as expected.”

Bale and Benzema performed well at the beginning of the season, scoring several goals and keeping the team competitive, but both have gone through tough spells since then.

Bale lost his starting spot to Vinicius Junior, a young Brazilian who has played well but still has room for improvement in front of the goal. He wasted several clear chances in the Copa del Rey match against Barcelona.

“We’ve already talked a lot about Ronaldo,” Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari said. “He is part of this club’s history, and what he has achieved can be seen throughout the team’s trophy case. We are trying to do the best we can.”