Is Cristiano Ronaldo still as good as he thinks? What the ‘facts’ really say
Cristiano Ronaldo has come in for some heavy criticism since returning to Manchester United in the summer of 2021. But the Portuguese forward has hit back, saying that stats suggest he’s playing well. We’ve attempted to find out if that’s true.
Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford – where he made his name as a teenager and went on to become the world’s best player in 2008 – was much celebrated by United fans.
He developed into a goal machine in his first spell at the club and went on to cement his reputation as one of the most prolific players in the history of the game during spells at Real Madrid and Juventus, winning countless trophies on the way.
Many fans expected him to continue having a similar impact after he re-joined in a £12million deal from Juventus, for whom he scored 36 goals in 44 games in 2020-21.
Yet at times this season, the 36-year-old has struggled, most notably in a recent run of five games without a goal, during which he sent a penalty flying past the post during an FA Cup game with Middlesbrough. It was his longest goalless streak in 13 years.
There have also been questions surrounding Ronaldo’s behaviour off the ball and how it affects the team tactically, with many observers questioning his commitment to defending and pressing the opposition.
Yet Ronaldo recently gave an interview to DAZN in which he hit back at the doubters, saying: “I show year after year that the numbers speak for themselves.
“I don’t have to tell you that I’m very good, because the numbers are there. The facts are facts, the rest is not. It doesn’t matter at all.
“That’s why I’m very happy with my form, I’m still scoring goals, helping people, teams, both in the national team and at Manchester United and that’s why I want to continue like this.”
To us, the comments sounded like an open invitation.
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Do the numbers really speak for themselves? If so, what do they say? Is Ronaldo as good as he thinks? Is he still one of the best around?
So many questions.
In an attempt to answer them, we’ve taken a look at Ronaldo’s Premier League stats from the 2021-22 season (prior to the game against Watford at Old Trafford on February 26) to see if Ronaldo’s comments hold up to scrutiny. All the numbers come courtesy of the wonderful FBRef.
Goalscoring and shooting
In 2021-22, Ronaldo has played 22 times for Manchester United in the Premier League, totalling 1744 minutes. In those games, he’s scored nine goals.
That puts him joint-top of the scoring charts at United (with his compatriot Bruno Fernandes) and joint-fifth in the Premier League overall, alongside the likes of Heung-min Son, Jamie Vardy and Emile Smith Rowe.
In terms of scoring rate, Ronaldo comes out well with 0.46 goals per 90 minutes. According to FBRef, that puts him in the 87th percentile of players in the Premier League – that’s to say he’s in the top 13% of players when it comes to goals per 90.
When you take out penalty goals, Ronaldo’s scoring rate drops to 0.36 per 90. In terms of non-penalty goals per 90, he is in the 64th percentile of Premier League players.
That’s pretty average by his standards. For comparison, it’s the same number of non-penalty goals per 90 as Odsonne Edouard, James Maddison, Ilkay Gundogan, Neal Maupay, Gabriel Martinelli and Ismaila Sarr have managed in the league this season.
With an xG of 0.60 goals per 90 minutes, however, you would have expected Ronaldo to have scored more. This xG is in the top eight per cent of Premier League players – which we’d say is fair to class as “very good” – and suggests his scoring rate could rise in the remaining games of this campaign.
In terms of shooting, Ronaldo is in the top two per cent of players when it comes to shots per 90, racking up a whopping 3.77. Of those, he gets 32.9% on target.
Again, a comparison is helpful. Raheem Sterling is getting 50% of his shots on goal, Harry Kane 41.6% of his, Mohamed Salah 40% of his and Romelu Lukaku 35.7% of his.
In terms of goals per shot, Ronaldo manages 0.1. That’s to say that for every 10 shots he takes, one goes it.
That puts him in the 40th percentile for shot conversion. Being in the bottom two-fifths of any shooting-related stats would once have been anathema to the Portuguese goal robot.
Passing and creativity
Ronaldo has three assists this season in addition to his goals, which puts him among the top 30% of players in the English top tier in terms of setting up goals for his team-mates.
Ronaldo doesn’t make many passes or crosses into the penalty area, but the again, you wouldn’t expect him to. United would want to see Ronaldo on the end of those balls more than they’d want to see him playing them.
He does, however, make a good number of progressive passes. According to FBRef, a progressive pass is one that “moves the ball at least 10 yards closer to goal from its furthest point in the last six passes, or any completed pass into the penalty area”.
Ronaldo averages 1.96 progressive passes per 90 minutes, in the top 24% of players in the league. And if he’s not making many passes into the penalty area, that means he is making a fair few passes that get the ball 10 or more yards closer to goal (probably in the build-up), which sounds pretty bloody useful to us.
That Cristiano Ronaldo chest pass 😍 pic.twitter.com/WCVF1t5Igs
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 20, 2022
Ronaldo’s number of passes per 90 and passing accuracy are also in the top 10% of players in the Premier League, which you’d expect from a player as technically proficient as he is.
Despite his advancing years, it also seems that Ronaldo is pretty useful with the ball at his feet. He averages 0.36 dribbles that lead to a shot per 90 minutes, putting him in the top 13% of Premier League players in that regard.
He also averages 4.85 progressive carries per 90. In plain English, that means he runs at least five yards towards goal with the ball at his feet around five times per game.
He also carries the ball into the box 1.34 times per game. For both of the carries stats, he’s in the top 15% of Premier League players.
Defending and pressing
But in the modern game, a centre-forward is expected to do more than create and score. So how does Ronaldo fare when United are out for possession?
He makes 0.31 successful tackles per game and 0.15 interceptions per game. That puts him in the bottom six per cent in the league. But he’s a forward, so tackles and interceptions aren’t really his bag.
The most telling stat for a forward in terms of defensive contribution, then, is probably pressures. Again, according to FBRef, a ‘pressure’ is when a player “pressures an opposing player who is receving, carrying or releasing the ball.”
In Real Football Man speak, that’s closing ’em down, getting in their faces.
Ronaldo averages 6.71 pressures per game, 2.01 of which are successful. That is… err, not great. In fact, it puts him in the bottom one per cent of Premier League players. A really strong pressing forward would make over 20 pressures per 90.
If you were wondering why it was Ronaldo Ralf Rangnick removed when trying to hold a lead against Brentford – causing Ronaldo to throw a great big strop – wonder no longer.