The Ronaldo Effect

By: Kevin Chroust | September 25, 2018

Yes, we’re seeing a measurable increase in Juventus shirts sold, and Jeep hit the kit sponsorship jackpot in measurable ways with this summer’s biggest move. But Cristiano Ronaldo’s impact on the pitch is also measurable in terms of the attacking style he brings, and more so now with STATS Edge. Let’s assess CR7’s influence heading into Wednesday’s fixture with Bologna as he and his new teammates prep for his biggest match since moving to Turin – Saturday’s fixture with recent title challengers Napoli.

 

Five matches in, 15 points, and Juventus appear well on their way to an eighth straight Serie A title. Should it happen, this one figures to look a bit different along the way, and some of that has to do with the individual on-pitch style Cristiano Ronaldo brings with from Madrid.

We’ve seen Ronaldo get on the end of more crosses than most players know what to do with and find his way into countless counter attacks over the years, but what does that actually look like in terms of quantifiable team performance? We’ll start with the form Juventus showed during the 2017/18 season without Ronaldo:

What we’re looking at here is a side that, compared to the league average of 0 percent, didn’t use much of a counter attack and was almost exactly the typical Serie A side when it came to crossing.

In terms of possession-based styles, their highest percentage was in build up with maintenance not far behind, meaning plenty of their possession was less consequential in their own half. Sustained threat was above average, but it’s not what one might expect of a title winner. Comparatively, Bayern Munich (+91), Manchester City (+79), Barcelona (+70) and Paris Saint-Germain (+62) all surpassed that.

Now, 2018/19 through five matches:

Juventus’ counter attack is now above the league average, and their crossing has increased from +1 percent to +58. Their maintenance has dipped, so they’re possessing less in their own half, and their build up and sustained threat have gone up, meaning they’re possessing in more dangerous areas.

What does all this look like in terms of shooting, chances and scoring? Granted, we only have a five-match sample size, but Juventus’ shots per match have spiked from 14.6 to 23.0, which has their expected goals more than doubled from 1.32 last season to 2.87 so far in 2018/19. Their actual goals is yet to reflect that at 2.2 per match after being at 2.3 last season, but that can be taken to mean their level of scoring this season should be easily sustainable because the chances have been there. Crosses in play have increased from 21.9 to 36.2 per match with their corners up from 4.9 to 7.2.

For an example of how Ronaldo impacts this, start with his crosses received. His 12 in five matches rank second in the division behind Roma’s Edin Dzeko (16), while Gonzalo Higuaín, the man he replaced, has received five in four matches at AC Milan. Ronaldo has also been a major contributor in expanding the counter attack in a measurable way with a team-leading 206 metres covered (144.8 carried and 61.2 passed), which ranks 15th in Serie A. His team-leading 95 sustained threat involvements are third in the league, and his 95 build up involvements rank 18th.

Within STATS Edge, we can flip this into video analysis rather quickly. For example, we can see shots on target only within contexts of crossing and counter attack for the last two games:

And those video results return immediately showing us just how much Ronaldo has made himself known by imposing his style. He accounts for seven of the team’s eight results in that span:

The playing style departures aren’t as drastic for Real Madrid, but there are some corresponding changes.

First, 2017/18 with Ronaldo:

Now, 2018/19:

In terms of possession-based styles, sustained threat has fallen off some, while maintenance has increased significantly, meaning some of their possession has moved deeper into their own half. And those Ronaldo-specific styles of crossing and counter have both dipped.

More basically, Real’s overall possession is up to a Barcelona-like 65 from 57 last season. There’s a slight dip in shots so far (16.2 this season down from 18.3 last), crosses (30.2 v 32.1) and corners (5.6 v 7.4), but their scoring and chances are similar. This season, they’ve averaged 2.4 goals per match with a 2.23 xG, while last campaign ended at 2.5 and 2.13.

So while Juventus’ chance creation has benefited with Ronaldo’s effect on style as we noted above, Real – at least so far this season – haven’t seen a dip without him. Gareth Bale said, “Obviously it’s going to be a little different from having such a big player there. It’s maybe a bit more relaxed, yes. I suppose there is more of a team, more working as one unit rather than one player.”

There may be something to that, but Juventus fans aren’t likely to file any complaints of the measurable differences he’s imposing.