Are We Sure Cristiano Ronaldo Improves Manchester United?
How on earth has this happened?
It all seemed set, Cristiano Ronaldo would be a Manchester City player. Then, in a matter of minutes, City pulled out, Untied were in, and at the 11th hour the Red Devils had the signature of arguably the greatest footballer to ever play the game.
The Portuguese legend is now back at the place where he first won the first of his 5 Champions League trophies as well as 3 EPL crowns. Where he first won the Ballon D'or and where he smashed home 118 goals over six stunning seasons.
Manchester United mean business, and this massive coup could send them back into the stratosphere. They’ll earn all the money they will lose from wages in kit sales alone. That front line of Edison Cavani, Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, and now Ronaldo, will be feared across Europe.
Ok, that’s the part that glows off the page. However, is it all as rosy as it seems for the 20-time English champs?
Let’s take a look.
Do United really need more goals?
We all know that’s its goals, and a profound ability to delivery them which highlights Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford. However, are more goals what the Red Devils really need right now?
They already have Cavani, Fernandes and Rashford to come back, as well as a budding superstar in Mason Greenwood who at just 19-years old has already scored 31 times for the club.
Last season, United scored the second-most goals in the EPL with 70, white they ranked 4th in the league for goals per shot with 0.12.
Goals aren’t the problem for United. They started the season with a handful against Leeds and should have scored a few more last week against Southampton.
No, what this team needs in order to truly compete with the best, both at home and abroad is a way of stopping them at that the other end. And this its where the Ronaldo heist doesn’t make so much sense.
United conceded 42 goals in the league last year, 11 more than their cross-town rivals City who walked away with their 3rd title in 4 seasons and are well placed to add yet another this campaign.
United also conceded the 12th most shots last year with 425, which illustrated United's fallibility at the back and within midfield. Yes, they got Varane in, but a severe lack of presence in central midfield threatens to hamper so many of the gains they’ve made over the off-season.
Last Season United played the majority of its games with a double pivot of McTominay and Fred - acutely dubbed ‘McFred’. With ‘McFred’ in midfield, this took away so much of the team’s creative potential going forward. Despite playing with 2 ‘holding’ midfielders, they conceded more touches in the midfield third than City, Chelsea, and Liverpool, as well as conceding the 13th most carries into the penalty area with 139.
This indicates a lack of presence, especially in ‘Zone 14’. Every other big team last year played with only a single pivot, employing two 8's just ahead of him, or if they utilised a back 3, like Chelsea did once Thomas Tuchel arrived, attacking full-backs.
United don’t play with either of these structures, and this could cost them dearly. Especially now that McTominay has gone down with a groin injury that will sideline him indefinitely. Fred isn’t good enough to play as a single pivot, so this knee-jerk reaction to Ronaldo, at the expense of a holding midfielder, could seriously cost United.
With the likes of Ruben Neves and Brighton’s Yves Bissouma on the market, and when you look at the structural side of things, perhaps that was the better option for United to pursue?
Plenty of goals, but at what expense?
As we all know, Ronaldo is a goal-scoring machine. He finished equal first at the Euros for the golden boot, as well as scoring the most goals in Serie A last season with 29.
Ever since he moved away from United in 2009, he’s never dropped below a goal every other game. He is truly a phenomenal goal scorer. In his later years, he has become more of a poacher, ditching the fancy dribbling and step-overs, for ruthless finishing unmatched by others……or so we think?
Ronaldo missed the most amount of big chances in the league last year with 27, and while his 29 goals appear impressive, when you look deeper into the stats, he might not be the ruthless finisher many think he is.
He took 162 shots last year in the league, for only 29 goals, this is a goal per shot ratio of 0.14, which ranks him in the bottom 47% of Europe’s top 5 leagues.
When you compare him with another big import from Serie A, Romelu Lukaku, the difference is quite striking. Lukaku scored 5 fewer goals, from 73 fewer shots, giving him a goal per shot ratio of 0.20.
As well as this, Ronaldo’s 60 shots on target give him a shot on target percentage of 37% - ranking him in the bottom 31% - and a goal per shot on target ratio of 0.38 - ranking him in the bottom 53%. Compare this to Lukaku who’s 42 shots on target give him a percentage of 47.2%, and a ratio of 0.43 respectively.
What this suggests is that Ronaldo isn't as clinical as his Serie A counterparts and that Juventus fed him the ball like no other.
Ronaldo took 98 more shots than Federico Chiesa, who was in second place and received 291 progressive passes, more than anyone else in the squad, and 4th in Serie A. Juventus also created 26 shot-creating actions per 90. This puts heavy pressure on Manchester United, who had two players in the top 6 for progressive passes received last year and created 3 fewer shot-creating actions per 90. This places a massive burden on the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba to create a plethora of chances for Ronaldo who'll demand the ball at every opportunity. It'll now be up to Ole Gunnar Solskjær to get the best out of him, whilst also maintaining some form of system.
Which begs the question...
Is Solskjær the man to get the best out of him?
This will be the definitive Manchester United talking point for the rest of the season.
Solskjær has never had to managed so many ego’s in one dressing room before and never had an unquestionable ‘number 1’ guy, the likes of which he’ll have with Ronaldo.
It’s Solskjær’s job to get so many of United’s massive names, and massive talents, all playing within a cohesive system which will make the pressure on him immense.
If Solskjær doesn't win some form of trophy with United over the next nine months his position will become untenable.
A bigger question will be just how Solskjær gets this team to play, and how he adjust to Ronaldo’s abilities. Both Juventus and Real Madrid were clubs that loved to control the tempo of the game and dictate possession- two areas United don’t have domain over and which is something Ronaldo is going to need to get used to, especially if United don’t immediately secure a central midfielder.
The Serie A and La Liga are both leagues that play very methodical and systematic football and which are in drastic contrast to the speed and physicality of the Premier League.
On the surface, you couldn’t ask for a better signing for Manchester United. The Golden Boy has come home, while he’ll bring a truckload of goals along with him. Whether those goals have help United land their first EPL title in 8 years of a first UCL trophy in 14 years are however two different matters entirely.
Did you enjoy this article? Join our free mailing list to get the best content delivered straight to your inbox, or join the conversation by leaving a comment below or on the Stats Insider Twitter or Facebook page.