More than 12 years after his last game for Manchester United – the 2009 UEFA Champions League final that won Barcelona the coveted trophy – Cristiano Ronaldo was back in the red at club level.
During this time he had basically won everything he could with Real Madrid and later Juventus, in addition to his success at the Euro 2016 for Portugal, and established himself as one of the best football players in the world.
At some point, however, his gigantic salary became too much for Juventus, who happily moved him this summer. Something of a transfer saga developed when Manchester City apparently refused to sign him initially, but after failing to land Harry Kane appeared ready to take him to the Etihad Stadium.
He made his second debut there against Newcastle United after the first international break of the season and it went as well as anyone could have imagined, so let’s take a closer look at his performance and try to get it out of the box.
Ronaldo was a striker on paper, but he loved to drift to the left, as his heat map shows:
That wasn’t good for Manchester United, and the reason is that all of their on-ball technicians who can produce Paul Pogba (Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw alongside Ronaldo) in the last third of the bar have often been overworked the left side of the field, making it easy for opponents to move and constrain them. In such cases, a vent on the opposite flank can prove to be a magical solution, but Aaron Wan-Bissaka isn’t exactly the first player to come up with it.
Funnily enough, this was an issue they had throughout the previous campaign and probably tried to resolve by signing Sancho and working on the right, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær has only used him on the left so far. Furthermore, Ronaldo’s arrival only made this particular problem worse.
Anyway, the Portugal international mostly did what he usually does on the left side – cut inwards.
In this case, he faked his shot, drove into it, and tried to find a target from a very narrow angle, but was unsuccessful, not surprisingly.
Such low percentage shots could prove to be a problem for Manchester United too; mainly because they are prone to counterattacks with a terribly thin midfield.
In this case, for example, passing would almost certainly be a better option than shooting, but Ronaldo still got a hit and saw his shot hit a body in the crowd in front of him.
The ball then broke for Allan Saint-Maximin, who led Newcastle forward in a 3v3 situation that became almost more threatening when it passed an opponent …
… But luckily his passport was not correct afterwards.
However, at the end of the day, Ronaldo did what he does best – score goals.
The first was the result of great anticipation as he made his move before Mason Greenwood hit the ball to capitalize on the goalkeeper’s overflow …
… And the second also showed his incredible speed at the age of 36, followed by a good portion of composition in front of the goal, although the goalkeeper might have had the feeling again that he could have done better.
Ronaldo’s shotmap confirms what we discussed – a good number of attempts with a few low percentage shots but clinical conversion in good scorer positions.
This was the perfect second debut for Ronaldo not only from a Manchester United perspective but also from an analytical point of view. His obvious strength – scoring goals – has been demonstrated on two occasions, but the associated problems for the Red Devils, including an aggravated left lean and the risk of unsuccessful low percentage shooting, were also evident.
It’s undeniable that the 36-year-old striker was never signed for just what he brings on, so that transfer could still go either way in a purely footballing sense. Ronaldo undoubtedly improve Manchester United’s attack, but that was already their greatest strength. Maybe he will help them score 10 more goals than they would have without him, but do you need that? Meanwhile, their midfield remains thinner and if anything, Ronaldo is making the problem slightly worse by conceding more counterattacks.
On its own, Ronaldo is almost always guaranteed to be a great addition to any team in the world, but when you look at the bigger picture for Manchester United, it’s hard to say whether that signing will improve the Red Devils successfully enough to make them better Title challenger status.
Statistics courtesy of WhoScored and FotMob.