EPL

Ronaldo's return: How has Cristiano changed since 2009?

By Sports Desk September 10, 2021

Cristiano Ronaldo will pull on the Manchester United shirt for the first time in over 12 years on Saturday, with the five-time Ballon d'Or winner all set for his second Red Devils debut.

Ronaldo secured his return to United at the end of the most recent transfer window, with the deal reportedly set to cost an initial £12.9million (€15m).

But it's fair to say the player United have re-signed is rather different to the one they sold for a then world-record fee.

Then a flying winger, Ronaldo has adapted his game as he's grown older and is now a clinical penalty box poacher – diminishing goal returns he may have, but 36 in all competitions last season would still have had him as the leading goalscorer in English football.

Saturday's visit of Newcastle United will provide Ronaldo with the opportunity to make his return, and ahead of that match, Stats Perform has used Opta data to look at how the formerly flamboyant trickster has altered his game since his Old Trafford departure in 2009.

Positional sense

In his final league game with United – a goalless draw against Arsenal in May 2009 – Ronaldo played on the right, though was given license to roam infield and exert his influence, as had been the case for much of a season in which he scored 26 goals across all competitions. 

However, only five of his touches on the day came inside Arsenal's penalty area, with the majority out on the right wing and a cluster from an advanced, central position. 

Contrast that appearance with his final Serie A start for Juve back in May, when he scored in a 3-2 Derby d'Italia triumph against Inter: only three touches in the area but fewer overall, heavily weighted to the centre of the pitch.

It speaks to the way Ronaldo has greatly changed his game over the past 12 years. 

During his time at United, he netted 115 goals in all competitions, making him the club's leading scorer in that six-year span from 2003 to 2009. In his final season at Old Trafford, Ronaldo scored eight goals from outside of the area – a feat he matched in four of the next five seasons and surpassed in the other, with 10 in 2011-12 (his third season at Madrid).

Yet by his final season at Juve, Ronaldo had refined his game to become the poacher United are adding to their squad. Across his three seasons at Juve, the 36-year-old scored just seven times from outside the area, from a total of 101 goals.

Wing wizard to penalty box king

During his formative years at United, Ronaldo's mazy dribbling and eye for a showboat caught the eye. It is no surprise, then, to see the numbers back this up. In 2004-05, he attempted 9.55 dribbles per 90 minutes, a career high. 

As he grew in stature, adapted to the rigours of English football and became a more powerful presence, rather than the wiry winger that burst onto the scene, Ronaldo's dribbling figures dropped – 8.22 in 2005-06, 5.65 the following year and 6.28 in 2007-08.

By 2008-09, Ronaldo's attempted dribbles per 90 were down at a relatively modest 4.73, completing 1.92. By the end of his last year at Juve, Ronaldo was down to 3.07 dribbles per 90, though his success rate of 61.7 per cent ranks as the highest in his career. He has not lost the ability to dribble, but rather picks his moments to do so.

Of course, there is less need for taking on the opposition when you are positioned in the opposition's area, ready to pounce on a cross or run onto a throughball.

Ronaldo's adaptation into a number nine had started before his move to Turin. Indeed, in his final campaign with Madrid, Ronaldo registered 1,913 touches in total, with 409 of these coming in the opposition's area – his highest total in the box in a single campaign.

Contrast that figure with his totals from his second season in the Spanish capital – just 82 of his 3,344 touches came inside the opponent's box as he scored 60 times in all competitions, a tally he bettered in 2014-15 (61).

The 2014-15 season was undoubtedly Ronaldo's zenith. Turning 30 halfway through the campaign, he was at his best in front of goal and creatively. His 21 assists were a career high, as were the 97 chances created.

If United are looking for a creative force now, though, they have chosen the wrong forward.

Ronaldo's 2008-09 season saw him create 82 opportunities and lay on 10 assists (at an average of 1.71 and 0.21 per 90). Last term, he created a career-low 1.15 chances per 90, with his average of 0.12 assists each game better only than the previous campaign with Juve.

Ronaldo averaged 50.6 touches per 90 in 2020-21, with 6.8 in the penalty area. In only four seasons, all at Madrid, did the Portugal captain touch the ball less on average, though his figure of penalty box touches ranks as the fourth-highest across his career.

Heads up

Looking back at images of Ronaldo's early days at United, it is hard to imagine how that rapid, tricky winger developed into one of the most feared headers of the ball in world football.

Ronaldo's leap – his ability to almost hang in the air at great height, while generating unbelievable power – is something few players have come close to emulating. It might as well be trademarked, at this stage.

If his all-round array of talents were not already enough, Ronaldo also gives Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team an aerial threat that only Edinson Cavani brings. Cavani, another veteran at 34, can no longer play every game.

Ronaldo scored seven headed goals across all competitions in 2020-21, as many as Cavani and Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who were the leading players from Premier League clubs in that regard.

Since he left United, 70 of Ronaldo's 450 club goals have come with his head – no player across Europe's top five leagues has scored more, with Bayern Munich talisman Robert Lewandowski ranking second with 57.

With Luke Shaw rejuvenated as an attacking force and Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Paul Pogba all capable of brilliant deliveries, Premier League centre-backs should fear Ronaldo's leap in 2021-22.

Related items

  • Rumour Has It: Madrid eye Lewandowski and Pogba as Barca chase Man City's Sterling Rumour Has It: Madrid eye Lewandowski and Pogba as Barca chase Man City's Sterling
  • Azarenka on brink of Indian Wells history after reaching final as Badosa awaits Azarenka on brink of Indian Wells history after reaching final as Badosa awaits

    Victoria Azarenka is one win away from becoming the first three-time winner of the WTA Indian Wells Open after rallying past Jelena Ostapenko in the semi-finals.

    After dropping the opening set, two-time Indian Wells champion Azarenka stormed back to outlast the 2017 French Open winner on Friday.

    Standing in the way of Azarenka and history is Paula Badosa, who eased past Ons Jabeur in the second semi-final in the Californian desert.

     

    AZARENKA RETURNS TO INDIAN WELLS FINAL

    Winner of the Indian Wells Open in 2012 and 2016, Azarenka is back in the decider thanks to a stirring 3-6 6-3 7-5 comeback against fellow seed Ostapenko.

    Former world number one Azarenka was down a set and a break before the 27th seed fought back to prevail over Ostapenko in two hours, 20 minutes.

    By seeing off 24th seed Ostapenko, two-time grand slam champion Azarenka celebrated her 33rd match win at Indian Wells – only two women have won more matches at the tournament, Lindsay Davenport (47) and Maria Sharapova (38).

    "I think my season has been tricky," Azarenka said. "There were parts where I physically couldn't necessarily bring that extra level, extra fight, which was very frustrating. Then there were parts where I felt that I was looking for something to add, and I didn't necessarily know what it was. It was a lot of searching in the season, a lot of kind of stepping into unknown.

    "I feel like right now I'm a bit more settled with a bit more structure, a little bit more discipline, which makes it not necessarily easier but a bit clearer what I need to do. So it doesn't take extra energy on that, so I can kind of focus my energy more on the fighting for every ball."

     

    BADOSA UPSTAGES JABEUR

    Spaniard Badosa added another scalp to her name by trumping 12th seed Jabeur 6-3 6-3.

    Looking to become the first Spanish woman to win the Indian Wells Open, 21st seed Badosa made light work of Jabeur.

    Badosa's success means she has beaten four top-20 opponents en route to the final, having stunned Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals.

    Having won her first title earlier this year in Belgrade, Badosa will feature in her second career WTA decider.

  • MLB playoffs 2021: Astros draw first blood against Red Sox in ALCS MLB playoffs 2021: Astros draw first blood against Red Sox in ALCS

    Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve lifted the Houston Astros to a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series (ALCS).

    Correa and Altuve homered as the rallying Astros drew first blood in the best-of-seven series at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Friday.

    The Red Sox, who stunned the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Division Series (ALDS), led 3-1 early on the road – Kike Hernandez the architect with a solo shot in the third inning.

    But the Astros wiped out the deficit behind Altuve and 6.1 scoreless innings from their bullpen.

    Altuve levelled the game with a two-run homer in the sixth inning – his 20th postseason homer as he became the fourth player to achieve the feat.

    The Astros star also became the fastest player (68) to reach 20 playoff home runs. Altuve has now scored 11 runs in Houston's five playoff games this season. According to Stats Perform, that is tied with Carlos Beltran (2004) for the most runs in any five-game span in a single postseason.

    Correa then completed the comeback in the seventh with his 18th postseason homer – tied for seventh-most all-time, while he recorded his 55th playoff RBI, the most among active players.

    It saw Correa celebrate his fourth career go-ahead home run in the seventh inning or later of playoff games, the most in postseason history.

    Hernandez – the fourth player to have multiple four-plus hit games in the same postseason, after Albert Pujols (2011), Robin Yount (1982) and George Brett (1985), homered again for the Red Sox in the ninth but it was not enough to prevent the Astros from winning.

    Game 2 is back at Minute Maid Park on Saturday.

     

    Dodgers at Braves

    World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers will open their National League Championship Series (NLCS) at the Atlanta Braves on Saturday.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.