In the summer of 2018, Cristiano Ronaldo shocked the footballing world with his €100m move from Real Madrid, who had just won their third Champions League trophy in a row, to the dominant force in Italy, Juventus. Of course, it was a record-breaking deal for a 33-year-old, and it was clear the main purpose of his purchase was an effort to bring Champions league victory to the Allianz Stadium. Juventus did not need Ronaldo to win Serie A, they needed him to bring his best to their Champions League matches. Would he be able to adjust his game to the way that Juventus play well into his thirties?
Through an analysis of his performances this season, we will discover how he has adapted his style of play from the fast-paced nature of La Liga, to the slower and more considered nature of Serie A football. His first season, under coach Massimiliano Allegri, saw tactics that were arguably more suitable to Ronaldo than what we are currently viewing under Maurizio Sarri. Generally, we have seen Ronaldo occupy more time on the ball in his second season in Turin, becoming more involved in the build-up play. This scout report will detail what changes have been made in this regard, and whether this has benefitted Ronaldo’s contribution or not.
In this tactical analysis, we will examine Ronaldo’s performance across the 2019/20 season, how his role has changed, where he has struggled in Italy, and where he still excels.
Style of play
The Portuguese legend has played primarily as centre-forward this season, with some time spent on the left-wing as well. In either position, he still likes to run down the left-wing with the ball attached to his foot and cut inside to release a venomous strike on goal. In these scenarios, he opts to hit the ball with power, rather than placement.
His status within the game affects how his teammates view him, he is certainly one of the leaders in the dressing room and that is clear to see on the pitch as well. Since arriving at Juventus, he seems to have improved his aerial ability, as has been well documented by the media. He can leap and tower above any defender in the world it seems, which he has used to his advantage numerous times this campaign. As he likes to be the man on the end of an attacking play, he often likes to initiate a one-two with his attacking partner, whether that be Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuaín, or whoever else is up top with him.
This season, Juventus tend to hold the ball in the opposition’s half for large periods of the game, with rotations regularly played between the two centre-backs and whoever plays as the #6. They are a side who do not look to aggressively press their opponent’s, instead, they look to cut off their passing lanes to regain possession and build their attack. Sarri has favoured a diamond midfield this season with his 4-1-2-1-2 formation or sometimes reverting to his renowned 4-3-3 formation, either of which suit Ronaldo well enough. Juventus like to attack down the middle of pitch through the use of attacking triangles we have seen Sarri’s sides operate numerous times over the last half-decade.
Passing and build-up
Juventus play their football with a possession focus in the build-up, looking towards the #6 (usually Miralem Pjanić) to dictate the tempo. They irregularly attack down the wings and prefer to find room down the half-space for one of their forwards to operate and create chances through their own individual skill. Sarri lays heavy emphasis upon possession, but sometimes at the cost of chance creation as they keep possession of the ball for large periods of the match without attempting any form of attacking venture. Unless they are in the final third, they opt to play the short pass, and as such, they have the highest pass accuracy in Serie A, with all their players finding their man 87.8% of the time on average.
Ronaldo looks to receive the ball to feet as much as possible. Occasionally, he will look to make a run in behind the opposition’s defence, usually when Juventus are on the counterattack. Consistently, Ronaldo will drop deeper to receive the ball directly, and then he will either look to dribble down the left-wing and cut inside, or he will attempt to do layoffs with his fellow forwards to create an opportunity for himself. When he wants to dribble with the ball, it is sometimes born out of frustration of his side struggling to create an opportunity on goal.
Above, we can see his heatmap this season.
He likes to be the end of most of Juventus’ attacks. He likes to be the man in the dangerous positions to release a shot on goal. As mentioned, when frustrated with the lack of chance creation, he will drop deep to receive a pass and forge an opportunity of his own. He will take on his opponents with his iconic step-over approach and look to dash past them and closer towards goal. Consequently, we understand that he is dribbling from deeper than he did in his later Real Madrid days, as can be seen, his average numbers of players he dribbles past per 90, which has increased from 1.26 in 2017/18 (his last season in Madrid) to 1.90 in 2019/20.
In the above analysis, we can see Ronaldo come deeper to receive the ball to feet.
Further forward, we see Ronaldo dribble past the defensive midfielder and step-over his way to take a shot on goal from the edge of the box.
Impact on their final third approach and attacking contribution
As mentioned, the team’s 4-1-2-1-2 and 4-3-3 formations suit Ronaldo in different ways. He has performed best when used as a striker this season, where he can provide an elite attacking contribution.
In his two seasons at Juventus, we have seen his goal output drop from the alien numbers he was producing at Real Madrid. Although, the amount he has scored this season is still within an elite bracket. In this scout report, we are mainly judging his ability from open-play to the team. This season, he has taken a higher proportion of penalty kicks than usual, attempting one every three games, while last season he was attempting roughly one every five matches. We have subsequently seen his non-penalty xG (npxG) per 90 drop every season from 2017/18 to 2019/20, going from 0.81 to 0.50 in the current Serie A season.
Here, we see Ronaldo out on the left-wing, with a couple passing avenues he could take. In this scenario, Dybala is more able in a central area to take on his opponent’s.
Nonetheless, Ronaldo decides taking a shot would be the best option in this scenario and it is easily saved by the keeper.
This all adds to his diminishing finishing ability, as seen by his npxG per shot of 0.09, down from his final season in Spain which stood at 0.12.
He has, however, become more creative than his later years at Real Madrid, where he almost solely focused on taking shots. This is in association to spending more time with the ball at his feet than he did in the latter stages of his career in Madrid. As he is coming deeper to receive the ball, by default, he has more space in front of him to release a through ball or direct pass to a teammate. It was mentioned earlier that too often he decides to shoot, instead of exploring other attacking avenues, but he is still passing more in the final-third than he has done in the past. His passes into the final third per 90 have increased from 1.3 in 2017/18 to 1.9 in 2019/20, which backs up what we can see on the pitch.
In the above analysis, we can see the high press of Inter has pushed Ronaldo back into his half. He backs into the defender who is applying pressure.
Here, we see Ronaldo play a one-two with Higuaín, where the Argentinian makes a run down the half-space, for Ronaldo to make a pass which takes bypasses Inter’s high press.
One element of Ronaldo’s game which has not changed much at all is his defensive contribution. It is useful for Sarri to play Dybala or Costa upfront with Ronaldo as they will use their energy to press their opponents with far more urgency than the 35-year-old. While Ronaldo applies pressure to an opponent on the ball just 8.19 times per 90, Dybala applies pressure more than double that, at 17.3 times per 90.
Above, we can see the locations and outcomes of his recoveries. Notice how most of which are down the left-wing, leading to the side regaining possession but not creating a chance.
We have now looked at the important aspects of Ronaldo’s game, and how they have changed from his time in the capital of Spain. Has he been worth the €100m they paid for him? One may argue no, as Juventus have not claimed the Champions League title they so desperately want and they did not need his services to win Serie A, besides his mammoth wages. Others may disagree, noting that he has still produced elite attacking output, adding to the reputation his signature brings (new long-term fans, shirt sales, etc.). The trend that is clear to see is that Ronaldo is becoming a weaker finisher, with his shot locations becoming more worrying as the seasons go on. Though his goal-scoring numbers are still top-notch and he provides added value through his dribbling and chance creation as well.