Manchester United’s latest Premier League fixture against Newcastle United raised many questions. Two shots on target during a match in which United were overwhelmingly the dominant side has raised concerns over the current ability of our strikers.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the No 9 for 70 minutes on Sunday.
With such, can Ronaldo actually be useful for Erik ten Hag this season?
United Peoples TV posted on Twitter that United’s style of play suffers when the Portuguese starts.
‘Problem that is definitely starting to develop at United is that everybody seems desperate to find Ronaldo and look for him, at the expense of a lot of better decisions/opportunities.
‘Not Ronaldo’s fault but there’s a definite pattern that’s developing in our build up.’
This has been a sentiment shared by onlookers over recent weeks.
Although there were chances in the Newcastle game, the overall attacking statistics were damning. With the back-line triangle of Varane – Martinez – Casemiro, United were able to progress the ball through to the midfield with ease.
But it was through the transitions into the final third where the true struggles lay. So given the influx of discourse surrounding the Ronaldo situation, are United’s style of play and attacking output suffering with him in the starting eleven?
Taking United’s prime creator as the first indictment on Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes’ goal contributions have dropped significantly since his compatriot rejoined the club last year.
Putting his first season and half at Old Trafford together, Fernandes produced a goal contribution rate of 0.86 per appearance (1.07 season one; 0.78 season two).
Since Ronaldo was introduced as United’s new focal point last August, Fernandes’ rate dropped by almost 50%: last season he averaged 0.44 goal contributions per match.
Interestingly, Fernandes has never replicated the fantastic form he produced for Sporting CP or for Ole Gunnar Solskær at international level. Playing alongside CR7 for Portugal, Fernandes’ goal contribution rate has been a mere 0.35 per cap since his debut in 2017.
Although Fernandes is rightly seen as United’s creative force, there is a lack of attacking impotence and presence across the entire midfield in the Premier League this season.
Christian Eriksen has contributed zero goals and a mere two assists. Scott McTominay is still waiting for his first goal contribution of the Premier League campaign. Fernandes is sitting currently on one goal and one assist.
Given Ronaldo’s lack of presence in the starting eleven this season, however, fingers must be pointed directly at these midfielders and their shortage of attacking output.
Last season under Erik ten Hag, Steven Berghuis finished with 19 goal contributions from 33 appearances, 26 of which came when he was positioned as a central midfielder. Ryan Gravenberch averaged a contribution every four appearances or so.
Ten Hag, therefore, clearly likes his midfielders to play a big role in front of the opposition goal. The current United midfielders have not enjoyed similar success so far.
Fluency throughout the attacking phase is intrinsic to Ten Hag’s philosophy – which is most likely why he wanted a player educated in these principles in Antony.
This fluidity in transitioning from build up play into direct attack is not being replicated at Old Trafford. The pressure to find the focal point, United’s legendary No 7 may be weighing heavily on the other players’ minds.
that Ten Hag prefers multi-functional and dynamic players when attacking (both midfielders and forwards) and that is demonstrated by his consistent benching of Ronaldo. Ten Hag evidently does not trust him to perform in, or grow into, his desired forward system.
When desperately needing a goal against Manchester City two weeks ago, the Dutchman opted to not bring on a striker who has scored 700 career goals. Fighting for a clinical goal against Newcastle United, Ronaldo was taken off with 20 minutes left to play.
People may point to Sébastien Haller’s deployment as a fixed No 9 for Ajax under Ten Hag. The key difference, however, is Haller met his manager’s other demands.
Haller averaged over 18 pressures per 90 minutes. Ronaldo averages seven, placing him in the bottom one percentile per FBRef. Haller also averaged over twice as many goal-creating actions compared to Ronaldo.
Roy Keane bluntly stated on Sky Sports that if a striker scores, the other players will keep their mouth shut. But this rather narrow-minded and fixed perspective does not factor in the wider implications as discussed – Ronaldo opposes various strands of the coaching staff’s philosophies.
Until Ten Hag fixes his midfield and their attacking contribution, it should be no surprise to see his preference for a dynamic forward line, in which Ronaldo sadly does not fit.
The inadequate midfield output in tandem with distrust makes Ronaldo an issue in United’s lineup.
Ronaldo’s personality will always bring him to be demanding and emotional when on the pitch. But if the manager wants to play in a different way to which Ronaldo thrives, are there not mixed messages being sent out to the other players?
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