Cristiano Ronaldo has been a contentious figure in Manchester United’s season. There seem to be two defined camps. The first sees Ronaldo as the club’s best player and that his individual record proves that he has been an excellent signing. The other camp will suggest that signing the Portuguese international was a mistake, as his presence in the starting eleven has significantly hampered the rest of the team. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick have both overseen teams that have allowed Ronaldo to score goals, but neither coach has managed to get consistent performances out of the rest of the squad.
It would be easy to suggest that Ronaldo has done his job and the faults lie with the rest of the team. After all, football is about scoring goals and he has done his part. The 37-year-old has contributed 18 goals and three assists in the Premier League. Despite the side’s early exit in the Champions League, Ronaldo managed to score six times. These stats underline that the club legend remains an elite goal-scorer, capable of thriving at the very highest level.
The issue that Ronaldo brings is that he doesn’t have the physicality to play a pressing role out of possession. This causes problems in balancing the team and both Manchester United head coaches have struggled to find the right combination. The former Real Madrid and Juventus forward averages just 6.86 pressures per ninety minutes. This places him in the 1st percentile among forwards, showing that in world football, he is one of the least frequent pressers.
This brings a huge problem when you are trying to compete at the very top of the sport. Liverpool and Manchester City are examples of pressing teams. Ronaldo wouldn’t be carried in either team, as every player is expected to do their fair share of the running out of possession. Liverpool have become renowned for winning the ball back high up the pitch and their attackers are considered the first line of defence.
There was a lot of excitement about the appointment of Rangnick, as it was thought that he would oversee a transition to a pressing style. In hindsight, it is fanciful to believe that any coach could develop a cohesive pressing unit with Ronaldo leading the line. His pressing numbers above show that he isn’t suited to it.
Another problem for United has been the decreasing contributions of other key attackers, as a result of the signing of Ronaldo. Bruno Fernandes has contributed 10 goals and six assists in the league this season, which is down from 18 goals and 12 assists. Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford has seen his form fall completely, with only four goals and two assists this season. This is down from 11 goals and nine assists last season.
Ronaldo remains an elite goal scorer and he has been a huge threat in the final third. He is averaging 0.49 non-penalty expected goals and 3.7 shots per ninety minutes. These place him in the 88th and 94th percentiles respectively.
Despite this, he needs to be scoring at a high rate to make up for the decreasing numbers of others in the team.
His future remains uncertain and it seems that Ronaldo could decide to leave the club to pursue Champions League football. That could be a blessing in disguise for Erik ten Hag, as it is difficult to see the pair being a good match.
It has been a good individual season for Ronaldo after his return to Old Trafford. However, rather than being part of the solution to the club’s issues, he could be part of the problem.