Cristiano Ronaldo – Jackpot or Failure for Manchester United?

Cristiano Ronaldo-Manchester United

Cristiano Ronaldo in Manchester United :

Cristiano Ronaldo- Love him or hate him, you just can’t ignore him!! His goal-scoring prowess, his Ballon D’Or’s, his “carrying the club” image have all endeared him to his supporters while being loathed by his Opponents.

Ronaldo’s return to United caught many by surprise. From a shock move to City to the Prodigal Son returning home, 36 hours is all it took for a United fan to go through a tumble dryer of emotions. He was returning to his “home”, as per his “Father figure”- Sir Alex Ferguson’s desire.

His first Instagram post after returning home even mentioned “P.S: For you, Sir Alex”, confirming what we all thought to be true-Here was a reunion that was going to exceed all reunions!! Here was a five-times Champions League Winner, a serial goal machine- a scorer of great goals as well as a great scorer of goals at the club that made him a superstar, with a manager and board that would do anything for him to bring back the glory days!!

What could possibly go wrong? For all the answers, please continue reading ????

Cristiano Ronaldo- A Team Player or Individualist?

A criticism that was frequently labeled on Cristiano Ronaldo during his time with Juventus, especially last season(2020–21) was that he was selfish and tried to maximize his output of goals, without bothering about how the team did. Commentators said that all that he cared was about catching Messi in the Ballon D’or Count and for this, all he did was try to score more goals without contributing in other areas like defense and tracking back.

Pundits said that Ronaldo conserved energy so that he could make those sprints when required-in the attacking third and didn’t want to utilize his energy doing defensive duties. They even pointed out how he wasn’t the most enthusiastic after a teammate scores, but celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm when he scored-showing that he was not a team player, but a glory hunter.

This criticism of him has carried on after being RE-UNITED with Manchester United. The pundits say that United which finished second last season was on the way up, but has suffered due to Ronaldo. Observers say that his presence in the side — instead of galvanizing the team has to lead to its downfall, as he doesn’t track back and doesn’t help in keeping the team’s shape. To add to all of this, he doesn’t press as well.

On the other hand, he has single-handedly rescued Manchester United this season, especially in the Champions League. He has come up with 6 goals in 5 games so far — with 2 of them being in stoppage time :

The Winner against Villareal at home and the Equalizer at Atalanta which saved Manchester United’s season & 2 others either being winners(against Atalanta at home) or go-ahead goals in a victory(against Villareal away)- which ensured that Manchester United qualified for the knock-outs of the Champions League. He has also been instrumental in the Premier League — inspiring wins against Newcastle, Spurs, West Ham(Away), Arsenal, Norwich, Burnley & Brighton with his goals and assists.

What do we conclude then? Let us look at data for 2 points specifically attributed to Ronaldo in the Negative sense- Team Play and Tracking Back to see how much of the assumptions about Ronaldo are true :

Football Analytics breakdown of Cristiano Ronaldo :

Contribution to Team Play

Let us look at some numbers from the last completed season: 2020–21 to see how much a Team Player Ronaldo actually is.

Ronaldo vs Top 25 Strikers npxGPer90 2020–21
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Top 25 strikers
Ronaldo vs Top 25 Strikers xGChainPer90 2020–21
Ronaldo vs Top 25 Strikers xGBuildupPer90 2020–21

Let’s compare Cristiano Ronaldo’s numbers to the Top 25 strikers across the Top 5 leagues last season(EPL, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 & La Liga). Ronaldo is one of Europe’s leading marksmen when it comes to npxG — the Non-Penalty Expected Goals which is a key attribute for any striker. This indicates his remarkable goal-scoring prowess from open play.

He performs relatively well in xGChain — The Possession play a player is involved in which leads to a shot being taken; He is among the Top 8 strikers in Europe as per this metric & xGBuildup -the same as xGChain minus the shots and key passes, where he is once again among the Top 8 strikers.

His xGChainPer90 numbers confirm his role as a player who takes part in the team’s possession play and marks him out as significantly involved in the build-up leading to himself or his teammates getting a shot away. The good numbers for xGBuildupPer90 show his involvement in Build-Up play and helping his teammates in creating chances.

Looking at the overall stats, it is clear to see that Ronaldo is a team player and is involved in the build-up play as well, leading to shots being taken and chances being created, without being obsessed with bulging the net every time there is an attack.

Tracking Back

Let’s look at this season’s data to see how much tracking back Ronaldo actually does. What better way to check this than to look at his actions across every match in the Premier League so far.

The charts used here highlight Ronaldo’s touches across every area of the football pitch. This is across 18 Premier League Matches* this season where Cristiano Ronaldo has either started or come on as a sub.

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Ronaldo vs All Teams

While 64 percent of Ronaldo’s actions are in the opponent’s half, 36 percent of his actions are inside his own half, show-casing the defensive side of his game and his tracking back attributes. This data shows that Ronaldo is ready to muck in and defend when the team needs him to & is not all about waiting for the right opportunity to score.

Let’s look at some of the important matches in more detail, starting with his debut- the homecoming against Newcastle where we can see around a third of all Ronaldo’s actions in the defensive half. This, despite scoring 2 goals and being involved in almost every passage of attacking play. :

Ronaldo vs Newcastle(h)

We observe a similar pattern against Arsenal where we scored two goals and was the Man of the Match for his excellent attacking display. Almost a quarter of Ronaldo’s actions are in the defensive half :

Ronaldo vs Arsenal(h)

Against Chelsea where he came on with around 20 minutes left and helped Manchester United to a creditable draw at the Bridge, he had 36% of actions in the defensive half, proving how vital he was in not just scoring goals, but also protecting goals :

Ronaldo vs Chelsea(a)

Against Tottenham when Ole’s job was on the line, Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brilliant volley and set up Cavani with one of the best 1–2’s of the season. He had almost 45 % of actions in the defensive half, showing up the defensive side of his game :

Ronaldo vs Tottenham(a)

In the Burnley game where he was once again phenomenal scoring 1 & creating 1, he had a significant 36 percent of his actions in the defensive half, helping the team out in the second half when they were protecting a three-goal lead :

Ronaldo vs Burnley(h)

Cristiano Ronaldo has similar numbers against West Ham at home as well, where he was involved in the build-up play and contributed to United bossing possession and winning their individual battles all across the pitch :

Ronaldo vs West Ham(h)

The Verdict :

All in all, we can safely say that Ronny – as he was famously known during his first stint at Manchester United is a Team Player and gives everything to the team’s cause. Yes, at 37 age is not on his side and we must get used to seeing Cristiano Ronaldo playing a diminishing role over the next few years.

However that plays out, Ronaldo will continue giving his best and being a team player- be it in helping out in defensive duties, applying pressure, or encouraging his teammates. One doesn’t need to look too far back at one of his memorable contributions recently- winning the ball back in the dying seconds against West Ham at home and setting up Rashford’s winner-showing himself to be the ultimate team player.

Football analytics is a major part of the breakdown of Cristiano Ronaldo in this article. If you wish to break down a player and their skillset using Analytics then you are in the right place. At Mad About Sports, we have football analytics courses taught by a professional football analyst himself Mr Sushant Rao. To learn more about Football Analytics and our courses, visit the link below.

Author : Joshua Sharon Senthiappan

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