October 28, 2021 || 1:06 pm

Cristiano Ronaldo: Are Man Utd being helped or hindered by Portugal legend?

Cristiano Ronaldo’s retu’rn to Manchester United this sum’mer caused so much excit:ement among fans – an’d he has already scored a few impo’rtant goals – but is the side act:u’ally better off with:out hi:m?

In one of the Prem’ier Leag’ue’s highest-profile signings, the prodigal son, now 36, retu’rned from Juventus this summ’er – just days after it loo’ked as if he was going to join riv’als Manch’ester City.

But after netting 4 g’oals in his first three games, he has only sco’red two in his next six – alth’ough they have both been late Cha’mpions League winners – agai’nst Villarreal and Atalan’ta.

United have chan’ged the wa’y they play to fit the 5-time Bal’lon d’Or winner in their side an’d Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is u’nder extreme pressure, with his team looking further away fro’m the elite than ever after a 5-0 ho’me defeat by Liverpool.

Former team-mate Leonard’o Bonucci thinks Juve’ntus were a better team without him and former Liverpool and Scotland’ captain Graeme Soun’ess does not believe he should be an auto:matic starter at United.

So is Ronaldo helping or hind’ering United?

What has he done well?


Ronaldo’s 3 goals in 6 Prem’ier League games is a perfectly decent return – 2 in his 1st game against Newcastle and one agai’nst West Ham in his seco’nd – but, by his high stand’ards, it is not outsta’nding.

The last time he ended a leag’ue season with a 50% scor’ing rate or less was 2006-07, his fo’urth season with United, when he net’ted 17 goals in 34 games.

That made him the 3rd top scorer in the Premier League, whe’re Didier Drog’ba won the Gol’den Boot with 20.

It’s early days yet – but 14 pla’yers have scored more Pre’mier League goals than him this season, including Wo’lves’ Hw’ang Hee-chan and Watford’s Ism’aila Sarr.

Instead, his main hero’ics have come in the Cham&pions League – a tournament whe&re he is the all-time top scorer with 137 goals.

His two late winn’ers are the difference between United topping the group on 6 poi’nts and being bottom, three points beh’ind the top two.

His 6 goals ove’rall have tak’en his tally for Manchester United up to 124 while he has 450 go’als for Real Madrid, a world-re’cord 115 for Portugal, 101 f’or Juven’tus and five for Sport’ing Lisbon.

He plays as a number nine th’ese days, as he has for ma’ny ye’ars now – a far cry fro’m the tricky winger 1st witness’ed by Eng’lish fans when he arriv’ed from Sporting.

For touches in the Prem’ier Leag’ue he ranks joint 216th wit’h 243 but for touc’hes in the opposi’tion area he is joint 16th with 39.

Ronaldo has the 8 high’est number of shots in this season’s Prem’ier League (25), with Uni’ted team-mates Mason Gree’nwood and Bruno Fernandes abo’ve him. He is joint ninth for sho’ts on ta’rget (nine).

“He will score go’als and exci’te the crowd, but I don’t thi’nk he can play every game,” said Sk’y Sports pundit Soun’ess.

“I would take him, but t’he conversation has to be ‘you wo’n’t be startin’g every ga’me but you will have a big influe’nce over nine months’.”

What about his all-round impact?

Well, it’s not the best. His pre’ssing statistics, in particular, are stark even if it has neve’r been his game.

In the entire Pre’mier Lea’gue, only one outfield player – excl’uding those who have played few’er than 15 minutes – has few’er successful presses than Rona’ldo’s 0.74 per 90 minutes this season and that is Everton defender Mas’on Holgate.

According to Statsbomb data on FBREF, Ronaldo ranks 384th for presses per 90 minut’es and 385th for successful ones. ‘some 429 players, including goalkeepers, have played in this season’s Premier League.

By comparison, Edi’nson Cav’ani – who played 26 times in the Premier League for Uni’ted last season as their striker – aver’aged 3.86 successful pre’sses every 90 minutes.

ESPN writer Mark Ogde’n told BBC Radio 5 Live: “What’s ‘chan’ged this season is Ron’aldo. They ‘have a guy up fron’t who d’oesn’t do a lot of work.

“Cavani runs everything do’wn. He runs lost causes, he gets the cro’wd and his team-mates goi’ng. If Ronaldo is’n’t th’ere, Uni’ted are more of a team ‘unit.”

BBC Sport pu’ndit Mic’ah Richards said: “If you’re bringing in Ronaldo, what is t’he st’yle of play? Where’s the ba’lance? Of course you’ll get Ronaldo [if he’s available]. Get ‘some peo’ple behind him who’ will do his work.”

Ronaldo has only won poss”ession three times in the opposition third in the Premier Lea”gue this ‘season – and played 48 passes in his own half.

For passes in general too, he is a long way down the list – joint 208th with 169 (143 successful) with 195 players ha’ving compl’eted m’ore than his two dribbles.

How has he changed United’s play overall?

There are sev’eral no’table differences to how United are playing this season: the’y are more direct; they put in mo’re crosses; and they press le’ss.

“He can [legitimately] arg’ue he’s been the best footballer ever, but in terms of him m’aking Manchester Unite’d a better team? No,” said Soun’ess after the Liverp’ool def’eat.

Ronaldo w”on Serie A in ‘his first two seasons with Juventus but last year they only just finished in the top four, ending th’eir nine-‘year reign as champ’ions.

Juve defender Bon’ucci said: “Last year the team pla’yed for him. Now the group must red’iscover that Juve spirit that w’as there before his arrival.”

Former United midfi’elder Bastian Schweinsteiger to’ld BBC Radio 5 Live: “I agree with Leonardo Bonucci that Juven’tus have got better without Cristi’ano Ronaldo.

“Wherever Ronal’do goes he is the main focus, but if you wa’tched Juventus before he wen’t there, they perfor’med as a te’am and as an XI.”

United are seventh in the Pre’mier League with 14 poi’nts after nine games, eight off lea’ders Chelsea.

Last season they w’ere on 16 points at this stage – but nin’th because most of the other tea’ms had played an extra ga’me.

But they were mea’nt to be better this season after sig’ning France defender Raphael Vara’ne from Real Madrid, Engla’nd winger Jadon Sancho fro’m Borussia Dortmund and Ron’aldo.

The Red Devils have h’ad the same start in the Cham’pions League as last time – sittin’g top of their group on six points from 3 games.

There are notable differ’ences to how they are playing this season and how Ronal’do has chan’ged their game.

United are putting in ma’ny more crosses this seas’on than last – with Ronaldo fam’ously good in the air.

They have moved up fro’m 17th last season to sev’enth this campaign in terms of cros’ses from open play. The average per ga’me was 11.2 in 2020-21 and that has now risen to 14.2.

Despite that, Rona’ldo is yet to have a headed effort in the Premier League this season – altho’ugh his Champions Leag’ue win’ner against Atalan’ta was with his head.

United are wo’rse this sea’son at pressed sequences – a mea’sure of how quickly they press from the front. They were seco’nd best of the 20 teams last seas’on but are seventh this ti’me.

They have dropped from 8 to 12th on opposition passes allowed per defensive action – which means they have got worse at the speed with which they interrupt opponents’ passing moves.

And in a significant change, Uni’ted are attacking quicker t’his season than las’t.

They top the Premier Lea’gue rankings for the amo”unt of distance a team move forward in a move – and have mo’ved up from seventh to secon’d in how far forward a team sta’rts a move in open play.

Solskjaer’s side have also impr’oved on direct attacks and direct speed.

Former England str’iker Ka’ren Carney does not thi’nk their style of play has changed too much though.

“They have tried to cha’nge the way they play [in rece’nt times] – that’s not just on Ron’aldo. United have a good away record because of their low block and coun’ter-attack,” she said.

Souness added: “They ha’ve a problem because they c’an’t play the way Ole wants to play. They can’t be the high pressi’ng team that the very best tea’ms are, because if one perso’n doesn’t commit to the pres’s, people can get out.

“He won’t give you tha’t so they will have to be a d’ifferent brand of football – that Ole doesn’t really want to play.”

United have cover’ed m’ore ground than their opponents in only one of the six games Ron’aldo has played in the Premier League since he returned – but that was also true for two of the 3 m’atches before he started.

There is little doubt Rona’ldo has changed Manchester Uni’ted this season and, as und_er-pressure Solskjaer ponders how he can turn their form around, the Norw’egian might be analysing these statistics and wondering whet’her the returning icon has ma’de his side better or wor’se.




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