Cristiano Ronaldo is a fascinating specimen. That is not only limited to the phenomenal heights he’s scaled in world football, his staggering physical attributes or mind-boggling goal-scoring record. What’s equally intriguing is his evolution over the years.
The Ronaldo which won his first Ballon d’Or while at Manchester United is a completely different beast to the one that racked up his fifth at Real Madrid a decade later. While featuring for those two storied clubs, the Portuguese has been the crown jewel of several teams but he truly sparkled in a choice few.
Often criticised for not being a ‘team player’, his influence on each side he’s led is unquestionable. Of course, he’s also been fortunate to be surrounded by star-studded supporting casts along the way.
Here, we look at the best teams Ronaldo has been part of and how he operated within them before previewing his role in Juventus’ set-up this season.
MANCHESTER UNITED – 2007/08
This was arguably the best team Sir Alex Ferguson ever assembled. He didn’t break the bank to put it together and it boasted the perfect blend of players approaching their best years, ones in their prime and others with bags of experience.
Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic made for a rock solid defence. The Englishman ably covered for the marauding Patrice Evra while Michael Carrick screened the back-line and fed Paul Scholes who dictated play masterfully.
Ronaldo lined up on the right and Ryan Giggs or Nani on the left but the Portuguese had the licence to roam and did so freely. This team was most dangerous on the counter-attack and when Scholes played the ball to one of the front four, their supreme technical ability and clever movement took over.
This tactic perfectly complimented Ronaldo’s strengths. Ferguson adapted in Europe though, particularly away from home, even playing a 4-5-1 with Ronaldo leading the line, Owen Hargreaves on the right and Wayne Rooney on the left.
Hargreaves would tuck into midfield while Ronaldo had the freedom to drop off or drift wide with Rooney’s industry ensuring he was always up in support.
They won the Premier League and Champions League that season, confirming their brilliance and extracting the best out of Ronaldo who earned his first Ballon d’Or.
REAL MADRID – 2011/12
4-2-3-1: Iker Casillas; Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso; Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo; Karim Benzema
During a period when Barcelona seemed invincible, Jose Mourinho engineered this Real Madrid team which beat them to the La Liga title.
It was a hugely impressive feat that saw them earn 100 points and score a phenomenal 121 goals. The XI boasted supreme athleticism and physicality with Sergio Ramos and Pepe uncompromising in their duties at the back.
Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso were a perfect fit in the double pivot with the former covering lots of ground and breaking up play while the Spaniard’s positioning was impeccable off the ball and he orchestrated proceedings on it.
Meanwhile, the front four was perfectly conducive to the counter-attack. Karim Benzema held the ball up and linked play expertly, Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria ran the channels relentlessly and Mezut Ozil threaded balls through with unerring accuracy.
Madrid overpowered teams in possession with Ozil operating as the creative hub and Ronaldo joining Benzema inside the box. In the transition though, they were devastating, especially because Ronaldo was absolved of defensive duties – in a Mourinho team at that – and was always ready to punish the opposition after a turnover.
REAL MADRID – 2013/14
4-3-3: Iker Casillas; Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso, Di Maria; Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo had already altered his approach to transform into a goal-machine upon arriving in Madrid but this was the season he fully transitioned into the player we know him as today.
He began spending more time in central areas, taking up goal-scoring positions while Benzema started to drift to the left with greater frequency and the marauding Marcelo also worked to generate width down that side.
How Carlo Ancelotti compensated for such a lopsided set-up was with the innovative deployment of Di Maria. The Argentine was played on the left side of central midfield and his industry not only drove Real forward as a ball-carrier but also saw him alternate as an auxiliary winger.
Isco would also play that role at times but the freedom for the ‘BBC’ to attack remained constant. They were explosive on the break and combined for 97 goals over the course of the season.
With Xabi Alonso screening Pepe and Ramos, they managed to maintain stability at the back. Los Blancos won the Copa del Rey and ended their quest for a 10th Champions League crown but also came close to a famous treble.
They finished third, behind Barcelona on the head-to-head rule, while Atletico Madrid triumphed by just three points.
JUVENTUS – 2019/20
4-3-3: Wojciech Szczesny; Danilo, Matthijs de Ligt, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Aaron Ramsey, Miralem Pjanic, Adrien Rabiot; Douglas Costa, Cristiano Ronaldo, Federico Bernardeschi
Ronaldo was very much afforded a central role last season under Massimiliano Allegri but new manager Maurizio Sarri is a completely different tactician.
The former Juventus boss defended with a low block, valued a compact shape and allowed his attackers freedom to create, however, his successor adopts a high-line, is possession oriented and systematic with his approach up front.
That said, they share common ground in their appreciation of Ronaldo’s talents. Allegri showed his by playing the Portuguese as the main striker often but even when deployed on the left wing, his involvement was largely through the middle.
A lot is demanded of the wide forwards in Sarri’s system though and Ronaldo is unlikely to be tasked with those duties, particularly off the ball. Playing him as the main striker is an option but the 34-year-old could benefit from the time wingers seem to enjoy in the half spaces within this game plan.
Sarri has so far used Ronaldo wide in pre-season but if that indeed is the way forward, special adjustments will have to be made. An industrious left-sided central midfield like Blaise Matuidi or Aaron Ramsey could be employed to compensate for Ronaldo’s inactivity in defence for instance or a striker like Mario Mandzukic willing to drift wide to form the necessary triangles with the full-back in possession.
Either way, Ronaldo is bound to be a prominent figure. How will it all pan out? That’s what has us on the edge of our seats.
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