Analysis: the evolution of Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo has under José Mourinho developed into a rare hybrid of a winger and a forward whose game relies on explosive movement rather than pure technical ability.

(Getty)

That is a far cry from Manchester United where the Portuguese was renowned as one of Europe’s finest dribblers; a tricky winger often criticised for taking too many touches.

José Mourinho, succeeding Manuel Pellegrini – who deployed Ronaldo as a forward upon his arrival at the Bernabéu – has adapted that individualism to his own emphasis on collectivity, making him less flashy but, typically, more effective.

While Mourinho is right in labelling Ronaldo a hybrid, his analysis differs somewhat from reality. Ronaldo may be a winger positionally (defensively speaking, anyway), but his attacking game leans towards that of a forward. Although Ronaldo is exceptional one-on-one, few of his goals are scored that way. Rather, they are hammered home via ruthless first-time finishes.

Analysing Ronaldo’s 46 goals in La Liga last year (2011/2012), as many as 20 of his 32 goals from open play came via first-time finishes – that is, with no touches prior to the finish (this discounts the 14 goals from set-pieces – 12 penalties and two free-kicks).

The collective patterns leading to Ronaldo’s goals were also interesting; half of the 32 came from two specific moves. The first was obvious to regular Real Madrid observers; six goals came from Ronaldo accelerating behind the full-back, often in a transition, before cutting inside to finish. Another move was more surprising however; ten goals were scored directly off crosses from the right side.

With such a complete package and the blend between two positions, it is difficult to categorise Ronaldo. He is not an inside winger; they either play killer passes, dribble from wide positions or play one-twos; out of Ronaldo’s 32 goals from open play, one came from one-twos, zero from solo-runs. His assist count is underwhelming. And he certainly isn’t a classic winger.

One can draw parallels to Hulk and his forward/wing role at Porto, or Lukas Podolski’s ability to attack the far post with direct runs. Yet Ronaldo’s overall game is unmatchable – particularly with the added dimension of his aerial play, which makes him as threatening inside the box as outside it.

And so, for the endless comparisons with Lionel Messi, the statistics show that Ronaldo’s magic is produced in a vastly different manner. The Argentine is playing his way into history with the ball at his feet. Ronaldo is doing so without it.

Read the complete article and analysis by Thore Haugstad – A football blog on tactics, formations and philosophies.

 

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