Statistical Analysis – Did Cristiano Ronaldo miss the trick by joining Manchester United at 36 ?

Cristiano Ronaldo, for all the accolades achieved is one of the Greatest Footballers of All Time, an exemplar athlete – the legend is looked up by many next crop of footballing stars as an idol. There shouldn’t be any doubt in anyone’s mind that even at the age of 37 the guy is in a phenomenal physical condition and still can contribute majorly to any team’s major objectives especially in front of the goal. But did Ronaldo repeat his mistake once again as he did by joining Juventus by joining the Premier League at the twilight of this career ?

Premier League is an intense, demanding league. Probably the most intense among the Top 5 Leagues. It challenges the Mental and Physical limits to the fullest. Hectic schedules also play a prominent part in the build up of challenges that The PL possesses. Even Thiago Silva, a veteran coming from French club Paris Saint German was surprised by the nature of PL and described it as “unique” in terms of speed and physicality. Many footballing pundits hail the PL as the best & most challenging league across the globe.

With Ronaldo joining United it was an emotional comeback for the legend of PL. The last player from PL to win the Ballon D’or Ronaldo’s signing instantly impacted the United’s stakes. Social Media engagements, shares in market, selling of Tees and overall revenue of the club. It was regarded as a Masterstroke from United’s Board as they hijacked the Ronaldo deal who for rumours was about to join Manchester City. But the deal with progression of time has proved that it has it’s own loopholes.

What is going wrong ?

The Portuguese Talisman has failed to find the net in the last 5 games in which he has played for 393 minutes including a costly penalty miss which hindered United’s progress in FA Cup against Middlesbrough. In the midnight game vs Burnley the United boss Ralf Rangnick limited the player’s role to bench as he described that the game will demand “a lot of sprinting and chasing of balls”. The statistics show the exact same image and there isn’t a surprise that Ronaldo isn’t as instant favorite of Ralf for starting the games.

Rangnick, a proven tactical master opts for players that press high, have good speed and put a workload for all the time they’re on the pitch. At RB Leipzig he had young and speedy legs in the form of Timo Werner, Yussuf Poulsen to form a formidable attacking duo who used to press up the opposition and create an urgency to take the ball along with other midfielders like Marcel Sabitzer, Emil Frosberg. Then once being in possession, it was the quick counter attack that used to caught so many teams in Bundesliga.

Ronaldo definitely isn’t suited for such roles as he looks to conserve his energy by avoiding the pressing and unleash once there is a chance for a goal as he makes runs for through balls thus playing “efficient football” a style which many won’t argue due to his increasing age. But there’s a clear clash of ideologies from Boss and Player which is proving costly for the club’s current season objectives.

 

As clear from the above image Ronaldo presses the least among all forwards and this is a place where United needs to understand that the 37 year old comes with his own limitations. Ronaldo himself though needs to be more clinical in front of goal so to make for his low pressing interests. The Portuguese has managed 21 shots in the last 5 games out of which only 5 have hit the target while 9 were off target and 7 shots were blocked which ain’t good for any striker’s standards. With Van De Beek (Everton) and Anthony Martial (Sevilla) loaning spells and the massive Greenwood saga, United’s forward line looks fragile this season and day by day the dream of Top 4 is fading. This is a massive chance for Ronaldo to hold and get his Bragging Rights by being clinical in front of goal and help United to avoid the costly draws against lower ranked teams.

 

Has Premier League revolutionized too much to cope for Strikers?

The mantra of Premier League top teams is simple – every outfield player has to press. Press in such a way that oppositions are caught on counters and every forward and midfield line player atleast has that clinical composure to finish a chance. This definitely has lead to a decrease in demand for strikers especially in the PL. Pep Guardiola’s City, Klopp’s Liverpool both play without a pure goalscoring Number 9. 6 of Manchester City’s players have scored atleast 4 or more goals this season with highest being Bernardo Silva at 7. For Liverpool – The trio of Mane, Salah, Jota lead the goalscoring charts but it isn’t a secret that all of them press and press with a high line at back creating intensity and urgency to snatch the ball. Tuchel’s Chelsea plays with Lukaku but he is more of a Target Man himself than a striker, holding up play and creating for those who surround him. Though the number 9 hasn’t impressed the fans with this role, often due to his poor 1st touch. 8 of Chelsea’s players have scored atleast 3 or more goals with Mason Mount leading the chart at 7. This shows that gone are the days when teams used to play with a lethal poacher and surround him with playmakers to feed the chances and finish them. Now the ideology has shifted towards PRESSING and every player needs to put in a real shift to survive in Top PL Teams. 

 

Low Blocks from lower ranked PL teams has also contributed in this as teams sit down deep to defend and have a discipline when being off the ball. Holding their shape and trying to hit teams on counters to score a goal and then defend again. This limits the creation of goalscoring chances of teams and therefore striker’s personal numbers are getting affected.

Ronaldo, who’s brought by United purely for his goalscoring prowess on the field therefore has been struggling in the PL to score (8 goals in 19 matches). Probably the ideology of “efficient football” by him is not meeting right in the dynamic structure of Premier League.

How Manchester United can get the best of Ronaldo ?

Rangnick needs to change his tactics if he wants Ronaldo to unleash. A certain Portuguese in form of Jose Mourinho got a large chunk of Zlatan’s greatness in the United squad by playing defensive football, (often called as parking the bus) creating low blocks and therefore not needing the urgency to press higher up the pitch and put in a lot of workload. This helped Zlatan to unleash during key moments in the match even when he was silent for majority of it. United’s youngsters in form of Rashford, Elanga, Sancho etc need to learn from the very best too, 800 career goals, an exemplar and disciplined lifestyle and always motivated to achieve. Ronaldo’s mentality in clutch moments alone can ignite United’s season to dreamy heights. And lastly the current fragile situation demands patience. Ronaldo will score goals, (maybe he needs the Champions League anthem’s melody in those ears or maybe Atletico Madrid as opposition) he’s done it everytime in his career to shut the critics but the bad tenure needs some patience. Ronaldo needs to re-think of his role in the squad and rest, United fans can hope for the best with their fingers crossed.

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