Cristiano Ronaldo has become the centre of controversy in recent days. What is his fault and what isn’t is anyone’s guess. But the controversy has led to many believing that the forward’s Juventus time is close to doom.
What ensued in Juve’s 1-0 win over Milan and in the game against Lokomotiv Moscow is worth a debate. But there is little clarity about what exactly happened. Especially considering how Ronaldo grabbed a hat-trick in Portugal’s 6-0 win over Andorra recently.
Those three goals did shut up those who said that Ronaldo is done, but numbers can also prove that this is a minor blip in affairs.
The problem for Ronaldo is that he has set his own bar very high. People are used to seeing him score goal after goal in every game. So much so, that not scoring even once in two games takes people off-guard.
But Ronaldo’s overall goals contribution isn’t bad at all. In 14 appearances in all competitions, the former Manchester United man has had a hand in eight goals in total.
As per Understat, his xG this season stands at 5.86, while the xA metric stands at 2.49. This presents only a minor under-performance in the 34-year-old’s season.
And it is absolutely normal for a player to play in such a period. Last season, Ronaldo’s xG stood at 23.32, but he scored 21 times only. His xA stood at 5.19, but Ronaldo overperformed that by getting eight assists in the Serie A.
He missed out on the xG by 2.32. But made up for that by overperforming on the xA by nearly a similar number.
Last season, Juve played a more pragmatic system under Massimiliano Allegri. Ronaldo and Mario Mandzukic changed positions from being a left-winger to being a striker. Ronaldo often played as the furthest man forward, as Allegri was keen on making the most his goalscoring abilities.
After all, Ronaldo’s role over the years has changed. At Real Madrid, he has had managers who have believed in the pragmatic ways more than the aesthetic ways. And with age, Ronaldo’s pace has dropped but his goalscoring ability has remained the same.
To make the most of that, managers like Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane played Ronaldo as the forward more often. Instead of giving him a spot on the left, they played him closer to the goal-mouth.
Ronaldo’s dribbling stats show that. The Portuguese completed 3.1 dribbles per game in his first season at Real in La Liga. In the second season, that stat stood at 2.2. Since then, those numbers have seen a decline. It shows how Ronaldo’s abilities have changed and the managers have adapted to that so that they get the best out of him.
This season at Juve, Ronaldo found himself playing under Maurizio Sarri. The Italian promises a brand of football that is on the opposite scale of what Ronaldo thrives in.
There is an emphasis on possession. Juve have had the highest average possession per game in the Serie A – 56.5. Sarri’s Napoli had an average possession of 60% in the 2017-18 campaign – a proof of how Sarri approaches games.
At the Partenopei, Sarri had made a gem out of playing Dries Mertens as the striker in a 4-3-3 shape. In his time at Chelsea, he could never find that mobile striker who could make the system tick.
At Juve, he finds himself with Ronaldo at the age of 34. The striker is used to playing a very different way- a more direct way. Sarri has used the 4-3-1-2 shape at Juve this season in an attempt to accommodate Ronaldo and another striker in Gonzalo Higuain/Paulo Dybala in the side.
It is a different dynamic to the 4-3-3, even though the basis of the system is the same. And that isn’t helping Ronaldo. And after years of playing and succeeding in a completely different system, he is having to adapt and change his ways all over again.
That is a very tough thing to do at the age of 34. It is human to take time to get to grips with that. But it is not Ronaldo’s fault whatsoever. He will just have to adapt.