28th September 2016. By Ryan Baldi.
La Liga leaders Real Madrid were held to a 2-2 draw by Las Palmas at the weekend, as Los Blancos dropped points for the second game in a row.

The result may have put a slight dent in their hope of claiming their first Spanish league title since 2012, but a point away to the high-flying Canary Islanders is hardly the kind of set-back that Zinedine Zidane's men will not be able to rectify with a couple of solid results back-to-back.

But there was an incident within the game that could hint at a general longer-term shift in emphasis for the eleven-time champions of Europe.

After 72 minutes at against Los Amarilos at the Estadio Gran Canaria, with the away side leading 2-1, Zidane substituted Cristiano Ronaldo to bring on speedy winger Lucas Vázquez.

It may have seemed like a rather innocuous change at the time, after all, footballers are substituted all the time for myriad different reasons.

But this marked the first time in his Real Madrid career that Ronaldo had been taken off based on a tactical decision, rather than due to an injury or to give the Portuguese star a rest.

The 31-year-old three-time Ballon d'Or winner hadn't had the best of games as he continues to work his way back to full fitness after a busy summer spent winning the European Championship with Portugal, and Zidane decided to opt for the pace and creativity of Vázquez in the wide areas, with the Spain international offering a greater level of tactical discipline to the man he was replacing.

Whether or not the switch was the right move is debatable Madrid went on to concede a late Sergio Araujo equaliser after the change was made but the fact that Ronaldo was fit and willing to play, yet was removed for the good of the team, marks a stark change in priorities for the club.

Ronaldo has started 231 La Liga games since joining Madrid from Manchester United in 2009 for a then-world record fee of £80 million. He has been substituted just 22 times, with 16 of those substitutions being made to give the former Sporting Clube de Portugal star a rest, five due to injury, and one against Las Palmas on Saturday due to a tactical switch.

In his seven years with Madrid, the team's entire gameplan whether winning, losing or drawing has been to get the ball to Ronaldo in a position from which he can score, while also limiting his defensive responsibility when out of possession. He has consistently been Madrid's main man and ace in the hold when they are desperate for a goal.

And it has been a gameplan that, more often than not, has yielded tremendous results: 366 goals in 351 games for the club is a phenomenal return from Ronaldo, who has developed into arguably the greatest goal-getter the game has ever seen during his time at the Bernabeu.

Those goals have fired Madrid to one league title, two Copa del Reys and two Champions Leagues.

But, now in his early thirties, there is no doubt that Ronaldo's career has peaked, and his remaining years will be a case of managing the inevitable decline, and optimising the skills and instincts that will continue to make him a valuable asset.

Last season, Ronaldo completed the lowest number of La Liga minutes since his first campaign in Spain, in which an ankle injury limited him to just 29 league appearances. Niggling injuries have begun to become a factor for the player who wants to play every second of every game.

Furthermore, when he is on the pitch, Ronaldo's involvement in games has slowly dropped off over the years, as his role within the team has evolved. In his first season with Madrid, he would touch the ball an average of 68.2 times per game and make over 36 passes. By 2013-14, those averages had slipped to 53.6 touches and 31.8 passes.

Last season, Ronaldo averaged just 46.8 touches and 29.7 passes per game.

As he has slowed slightly, Ronaldo has found himself less inclined to try to get in the ball in deep or wide areas, and has instead concentrated on staying high up the pitch and getting into the penalty area as much as possible. Gone are the dribbles past multiple defenders, with greater emphasis put on his aerial ability and predatory instincts.

Ronaldo is also scoring in fewer games than he was during his peak. Last season, he failed to score in 44 per cent of Madrid's La Liga fixtures, compared to just 28.6 and 26.7 per cent in 2015-16 and 2014-15 respectively. This shows that, while he can still rack up the goals, the number of games that he is influencing is decreasing.

There is no doubt that Ronaldo is still a key player for Madrid, but perhaps Zidane is setting the wheels in motion to wean Los Blancos off their dependence on their number 7.

Since taking the reins at the Bernabéu in January this year, Zidane has shown that he prizes work-rate and organisation as much, if not more, than individual skill and flair; there are no passengers in his team. That is why Brazilian defensive midfielder Casemiro has become a mainstay of the side, while the likes of James Rodríguez and Isco struggle to get a game.

So as Ronaldo's efficacy and efficiency begins to taper off ever so slightly, Zidane may feel that the tactical allowances made for the Portuguese star are becoming less viable.

Gareth Bale's current form has shown Zidane that he has a goal-scoring match winner at his disposal, who is also able to do the dirty work of pressing the opposition and tracking back two things that Ronaldo has seldom been asked to do in recent years.

And with the likes of the aforementioned Vázquez and, more specifically, the precociously talented Marco Asensio emerging, it would be prudent of Zidane to give these younger players their head in preparation of them eventually taking the mantle from Ronaldo.

His substitution against Las Palmas might prove to be a one-off, and he will still feature heavily in any success Madrid enjoys this season. But perhaps the days of Real Madrid's success being built on Ronaldo's shoulders are coming to an end.