“Bad signing” Ronaldo – Better alternatives for Real Madrid and Juventus
After Juventus’ elimination from the Champions League against Porto, rumours of Cristiano Ronaldo leaving the club at the end of the season have started again. Former Juventus President Giovanni Cobolli Gigli heavily criticized the Portuguese superstar saying he was “a bad signing, absolutely”.
In this situation and immersed in a complicated season themselves, Real Madrid have emerged as the favourites to sign Ronaldo again. It’s easy to see Real Madrid have never been able to replace the Portuguese and he’s still regarded as the best player in the club’s history so a move back to Los Blancos would make sense from the ‘feelings’ side too.
But it’s inevitable to think there must be other options that could be better for Real Madrid and Juventus than the 36-year-old Ronaldo. In this data analysis, we’ll look at some alternatives that would represent better value for money and contribute differently than the Portuguese international.
We first used Total Football Analysis’ in-house tool xGold to get a shortlist of players who are statistically similar to Ronaldo. We put a minimum value of €15 million to include only well-known players who could be ready to play for a top team. The list was composed of 47 players and we also included Ronaldo in the analysis to compare him. The full list of players with the transfermarkt value is below.
As explained later in the analysis, only players who score or can score at a similar rate as Ronaldo’s are considered for the rest of the sections.
All the data used have been taken from Wyscout and refer to the last calendar year. The grey area in the graphs is the one between the 25th and 75th percentile, meaning 50% of the players fall in that area for every given metric. Ronaldo’s values are marked with a thin grey line so we can quickly compare him to the rest of the players.
Regardless of his form and age, when you sign Ronaldo you get goals. If Ronaldo has been able to be close to Lionel Messi at some points in his career it’s because of his stratospheric scoring figures.
We’ll look at our candidates scoring figures and focus on those who could potentially score at a similar rate as Ronaldo’s. For this, we’ll look at non-penalty goals per 90 (y-axis) and expected non-penalty goals per 90 (x-axis). The colour of the marks represents how both metrics relate, with orange representing those players who are scoring more than expected and blues the opposite. Through this analysis, when we speak about goals it will always be referring to non-penalty goals.
As expected, Ronaldo is one of the best scorers here scoring 0.58 goals from an expected 0.49 per 90. For the rest of the analysis, we’ll consider those players who score more than 0.45 goals per 90. We’ll also include in our analysis two players who aren’t scoring at that rate but with a higher xG per 90 than Ronaldo. The players whose name is in the chart are the ones that will be considered for the rest of the analysis.
Only four players rank higher than Ronaldo in both statistics. Benzema, who has assumed Real Madrid’s leadership after Ronaldo’s departure, has outperformed the Portuguese’s numbers in the last year with 0.62 goals from 0.53 xG. The French striker has gone from a supporting striker who created a lot of space and chances for Ronaldo to a complete number nine who participates in the game and finishes the attacks.
The other three players are riskier options. Moise Kean is the best at scoring with 0.66 goals from 0.57 xG per 90. On loan at PSG from Everton, the 21-year-old Italian striker is showing again all the scoring qualities that made Everton pay €27.5 million for him in 2019.
Diego Rossi and Donyell Malen also show up better than Ronaldo but playing outside the top-5 leagues. Rossi is a 23-year-old Uruguayan forward playing for Los Angeles FC in the MLS who has scored 0.6 goals from 0.52 xG per 90, excellent figures considering he usually plays as a winger and is still young. Malen, a 22-year-old striker playing for PSV in the Eredivisie, has scored 0.63 goals from 0.54 xG per 90 in the last year and is already regarded as one of the hottest young strikers in the world.
Among the rest of the players, we find some usual suspects who need no presentation like Mohamed Salah, Kylian Mbappé or Rahim Sterling. But some surprising inclusions are scoring at a great rate and are statistically similar to Ronaldo. Players like Phil Foden, Gerard Moreno or Gabriel Barbosa ‘Gabigol’ wouldn’t normally feature in a list of players destined to replace Ronaldo but they’re statistically similar and are scoring (or can score in the case of Gabigol) at a similar rate.
Continuing with the analysis of their scoring ability, we’ll look at how much the players shoot and how speculative those shots are. We have shots per 90 on the y-axis and xG per shot (the quality of the positions from where the players shoot) on the x-axis. It’s important to compare the number of shots with some quality metric because some players don’t play in dominant teams and won’t get as many opportunities to shoot. The colour here represents again how goals and xG relate, with orange representing those players who are scoring more than expected and blues the opposite.
Ronaldo is by far the player who takes most shots among our candidates with 5 per 90. He takes lots of speculative shots from difficult positions, registering a just decent 0.146 xG per shot.
Only three players rank in the top 25% for both statistics. Gabigol, with 3.44 shots per 90 and 0.189 xG per shot, is getting into good positions lots of times but he’s just scoring 72.2% of the goals he’s expected to. If his finishing improved, he would be a strong candidate to lead a top team and aged 24 he still has time to prove he’s capable of performing in a top European club.
Another standout is Andrej Kramarić. The 29-year-old Croatian forward is having a great year, scoring 0.57 goals from 0.49 xG per 90. He gets into good shooting positions very often taking 3.37 shots per 90 worth 0.205 xG each. Doing this at a mid-table team like Hoffenheim makes it more impressive and he would be an interesting short-term solution for a top club as he’s aged 29.
The other standout player doesn’t need a presentation. Kylian Mbappé is shooting 3.21 times per 90 and averaging 0.196 xG per shot. This has led him to score 0.57 goals from 0.48 xG per 90. He’s an obvious option for any club looking to secure the next top player in the world.
Kean stands out again in this graph. The Italian ranks second in xG per shot with 0.233 and also shoots a close-to-average 2.58 times per 90. He’s overperforming his xG by 16% and looks like an excellent poacher from these statistics.
The three players who are scoring at a better rate than Ronaldo rank similarly here. They all fall in the top 25% for shots per 90 (Malen: 3.77 – Rossi: 3.48 – Benzema: 3.3) and in the middle 50% for xG per shot (Malen: 0.157 – Rossi: 0.167 – Benzema: 0.17). Leading their teams’ attacks, they show personality to take lots of shots but also intelligence to get into good positions.
Foden and Bale are the only players we’re considering who take more speculative shots than Ronaldo. Bale collects 0.121 xG from each of his 3.38 shots per 90 but overperforms his xG by 29% while each of 2.67 Foden’s shots per 90 is worth an average of 0.127 xG and he greatly overperforms his xG by 40.2%. Bale’s still a Real Madrid player and despite his injury and consistency issues, he could still be on the run for a Real Madrid starting position given the lack of money all clubs are facing.
Lastly in this section, we’ll look at the strikers’ finishing ability. While comparing goals with xG is a good measure of it, we also want to look at it from another perspective. In the y-axis, we’ve graphed the % of shots on target (shots on target/shots) and in the x-axis, goal conversion percentage (goals/shots).
A logical consequence of the high number of speculative shots Ronaldo takes is him ranking quite badly for both metrics. Just 41.15% of his shots are on target and 16.92% are goals. None of the 18 candidates ranks worse than him on shots on target % and only four of them have a lower goal conversion.
All the seven players who rank in the top 25% for both metrics are on our candidate list. Mbappé (53.78%), Sterling (53.39%) and Diogo Jota (53.73%) stand out for their high shooting accuracy while Gerard Moreno (25.51%) and Kramarić (25%) are very good in their goal conversion. Kean also looks very good with a goal conversion of 27.27%.
The rest of the players rank quite closely in goal conversion (between Bale’s 15.63% and Salah’s 19.85%) with their shots on target % varying more (from Foden’s 42% to Salah’s 48.95%).
In this section of the analysis, we’ve seen how difficult it is to find a player who plays like Ronaldo but also scores like him. Kean seems a good alternative if we want someone who poaches goals in the box, Rossi and Malen are interesting options who get more shots and play more in the second line and Benzema seems to have a very similar profile to Ronaldo’s but taking less speculative shots. Gerard Moreno with his excellent finishing looks like an interesting option too.
Despite his transition to a more central and finishing role, Ronaldo remains a very good dribbler. Any team thinking about signing Ronaldo can choose to place him as a winger or as a striker and in both positions, being able to dribble past opponents and create his own chances are very important traits.
In the first chart below, we have dribbles attempted per 90 on the x-axis and the success rate on the y-axis. There’s a slight tendency to have a lower success rate the more dribbles a player attempts but both metrics aren’t too correlated among the chosen players, with all of them completing at least 40% of their dribbles.
When it comes to dribbling, Ronaldo ranks very highly, attempting 6.04 dribbles per 90 and completing 60.19% of them.
Only four players have a higher dribbling completion than the Portuguese and all of them are great scorers and thus included in our shortlist. Hirving Lozano stands out here, completing 61.4% of the 7.13 dribbles he attempts per 90. Lyon’s Toko Ekambi and Kramarić also complete most of their dribbles (61.16% both) but attempt fewer dribbles than Ronaldo (4.26 and 4.08 per 90 respectively). Aubameyang has the highest completion rate (61.76%) but is second-bottom at dribbles attempted per 90 with just 2.4.
Mbappé emerges again as a top ñlaeyr in these metrics, attempting the most dribbles across the group (9.67 per 90) and completing a good number of them (51.51%). Sterling and Carlos Vela (32, Los Angeles FC) are the resting two shortlisted players who attempt more dribbles than Ronaldo, but both of them are in the bottom 25% for completion.
There’s a clear tendency of those who we’ve highlighted as top scorers to attempt fewer dribbles. The top ones (Kean, Malen, Benzema and Rossi) all rank below Ronaldo in attempts and except Benzema, they’re all in the bottom 50% for dribble completion.
Let’s analyze this issue further with the next graph. This time, we’ll look at progressive runs (y-axis) and completed dribbles (x-axis) per 90. When a player dribbles but doesn’t progress, it means that he avoided a challenge but didn’t go forward. This happens usually for midfielders who are press-resistant and for strikers that make short dribbles before shooting or passing. Also, progressive runs can happen without dribbling, even if both statistics are closely related.
Ronaldo ranks just inside the top 25% for both metrics with 3.365 completed dribbles and 3.04 progressive runs per 90. Because of his freedom of movement, Ronaldo can drift wide and progress from there and also dribbles inside the box to create the space for shots.
Once again, only two of our great goalscorers rank higher than him on both metrics. Mbappé, best on both statistics with 5.078 completed dribbles and 5.05 progressive runs per 90 is far away from the rest. Lozano also looks good, being third-best in completed dribbles (4.378 per 90) and sixth in progressive runs (3.28 per 90).
Sterling and Diogo Jota make equal or more progressive runs than Ronaldo (3.18 and 3.04 per 90 respectively) but with fewer dribbles, meaning either that they use their dribbles more often to advance or that they run with the ball with spaces in front of them, likely in transitions.
Some interesting names rank very lowly here. Benzema, Aubameyang, Gabigol and Kean are in the bottom 25% for both metrics, meaning they don’t create or progress form dribbling but still find good positions to score and be at the end of the plays created by their teammates.
Bale is an outlier here, completing much more dribbles (3.175 per 90) than progressive runs (1.53 per 90). This can lead us to think that he uses his dribbles to create space for a shoot, pass or cross instead of advancing. Considering his playing style and the high amount of shots he attempts, it looks like a plausible explanation for his numbers.
We’ll now look into how these players who are similar to Ronaldo create for their teammates. Ronaldo isn’t known for his creativity or passing ability and here we could find some players that aren’t that similar to him and who could bring different creative qualities to their teams.
We’ve chosen expected assists per 90 (y-axis) and progressive passes per 100 passes (x-axis) to show how our forwards create chances and also help progression. Choosing xA over assists eliminates the teammate’s finishing ability from the analysis and taking progressive passes per 100 passes instead of per 90 allows us to see how aggressive the players are with their passing and compare them even if they perform in different tactics and styles. We’ve included the total number of passes per in the colour (orange is high and blue low) to assess the level of involvement in the attacks.
Ronaldo ranks quite poorly in both metrics, close to the bottom 25%. Despite being very involved in the attacks with 32.63 passes per 90, he just manages to provide 0.13 xA per 90 and only 10.021% of his passes are progressive. Malen, Diogo Jota and Gabigol are quite close to the Portuguese here.
The top player when it comes to creating with his passing quality is Vela. The Mexican striker is arguably the best player in the MLS, scoring 0.55 goals from 0.36 xG per 90 (50.9% overperformance) and adding 0.37 xA per 90 to that he brings his expected goal contributions to a phenomenal 0.73 per 90. He isn’t very involved in the attacks with just 28.77 passes per 90 but 16.13% of those passes are progressive passes, the best figure of the players considered in this data analysis. Aged 32, he was already tipped for a transfer to Barcelona a year ago and could be an interesting and exotic short-term solution.
The other top scorer who ranks in the top 25% for both metrics is Villarreal’s Gerard Moreno. With 0.22 xA added to his 0.34 xG per 90, Moreno is a very complete goal creator. He also came out as an excellent finisher, scoring 34% more goals than expected and being one of the best players in goal conversion and shots on target. And on top of that, 13.75% of his 33.3 passes per 90 are progressive passes.
Unsurprisingly, Kean ranks very low here. The PSG striker is focused on finishing and registers just 0.03 xA per 90 with only 9.82 of his passes being progressive. With 15.17 passes per 90, he’s the least involved in his team’s attacks from the players we’re considering.
Bale and Salah progress very often but aren’t excellent chances creators, while Foden and Mbappé are very creative to assist even if they don’t usually try to progress with passes. The playing style of the teams influences a lot these metrics and, normally, those more possession-based like Man City or PSG rank oppositely to those more direct like Liverpool or Tottenham.
When out of possession, Ronaldo doesn’t work hard to recover the ball and his status frees him from defensive work. In this department, there are much better options than the Portuguese.
We’ll quickly assess the defensive work of the selected players in the next graph. We’ll take defensive duels per 90 as a measure of how hard they try to get the ball back and possession-adjusted interceptions as a measure of their ability to block passing lanes. The colour represents the percentage of defensive duels won with orange being high (up to Neres’ 62.65%) and blue low (down to Toko Ekambi’s 40%). The ability to win defensive duels isn’t as important in a striker as the willingness to get into them.
As already explained, Ronaldo ranks in the bottom 25% for both metrics. His 1.44 defensive duels per 90 are only better than Benzema’s 1.26 and he just gets 1.4 interceptions per 90 (1.91 if possession-adjusted).
Most of the good scorers we’re considering as Ronaldo replacements rank in the middle 50% for both metrics. Only Lozano is in the top 25% for both metrics with 5.67 defensive duels per 90 (50.29% success rate) and 4.56 possession-adjusted interceptions. Diogo Jota also presses very hard, getting into 5.81 defensive duels per 90 but he doesn’t intercept as many passes.
On the negative side, Gabigol, Mbappé, Kramarić, Malen and Zapata all lack some more defensive work and are in the bottom 25% for defensive duels per 90. They’re all star players at their team and often freed from defensive duties.
We have selected some players who could bring different qualities and at different prices to replace Ronaldo. The obvious choice to replace Ronaldo would be Mbappé, while Benzema and Bale are already Real Madrid players so we could just consider them as Juventus’ options. We’ve decided to not include any of these players in the final shortlist.
The local option: Gerard Moreno
At 28 and in his peak years, Gerard Moreno is having another outstanding season at Villarreal, scoring 20 goals and providing six assists in 37 matches at the moment of writing. The left-footed Spanish striker has also broken into the national team and has scored four goals in his first nine caps.
First of all, Gerard Moreno is an excellent finisher. Despite not getting as many chances as other top strikers (0.34 xG per 90), he still scores at an excellent rate of 0.47 goals per 90. His intelligence to get into great shooting positions (0.19 xG per shot) and his outstanding conversion rate of 25.51% suggest he would be an even better scorer playing for a dominant side.
But Moreno isn’t just a finisher and his creativity also stands out. He has 0.22 xA per 90 and 13.75% of his passes are progressive passes, both excellent figures. He’s also a good dribbler, completing 54.44% of the 4.66 dribbles he attempts per 90.
With these excellent figures at a smaller team like Villarreal, playing in La Liga and in his peak years, Moreno would perform automatically for Real Madrid. His tendency to move wide makes him a versatile player who could partner with Benzema or play alone upfront.
The short-term solution: Andrej Kramarić
It would be certainly surprising if Real Madrid or Juventus chose to take Kramarić instead of Ronaldo but the numbers suggest he would be a good choice. Aged 29, Kramarić is having a spectacular season at Hoffenheim, scoring 19 goals and assisting another four in 26 matches in all competitions, including three goals in two matches against Bayern Munich. Last season he scored 12 in 19 matches, including four in the last game of the season against Borussia Dortmund.
Kramarić scoring figures are very close to Ronaldo’s. The Croatian forward has scored 0.57 non-penalty goals from 0.49 xG per 90 in the last year (0.58 from 0.49 for Ronaldo). He shoots a lot (3.37 times per 90) and from very good positions (0.205 xG per shot) even if he doesn’t play for a dominant side. With a goal conversion of 25%, he’s just behind Gerard Moreno and Moise Kean in our analysis.
Apart from scoring, Kramarić is a very efficient dribbler, completing 61.16% of the few dribbles he attempts. He also runs with the ball at high speed and is capable of advancing quickly in transitions as proven by his 2.97 progressive runs per 90. When it comes to creating for others, he’s a good but not excellent player, achieving 0.16 xA per 90 and with 11.91% of his passes being progressive passes. He’s very involved in the attacks and is a complete striker.
With his contract expiring in 2022, Hoffenheim will be tempted to sell Kramarić next summer. He doesn’t have the pedigree of Ronaldo or Mbappé but has proven he can perform at the top level and surely deserves a chance in a top European club.
The pure 9: Moise Kean
After pushing to leave Everton in October, Kean has found playing time at PSG and at 21, he’s performing greatly for the French giants. With 17 goals and one assist in 32 matches so far, he’s now justifying the €27.5 million Everton paid for him in 2019.
Kean is the best scorer of the players we analyzed. With 0.66 non-penalty goals from 0.57 xG and a conversion rate of 27.27% (best in our analysis), the Italian striker has been deadly in the box this year, also registering a second-best 0.237 xG per shot. These figures speak about an excellent goal poacher with intelligent moves to get into great scoring positions and clinical finishing.
Apart from scoring, Kean doesn’t do a lot. He completes just 1.96 dribbles per 90 and he doesn’t assist his teammates (just 0.03 xA per 90), preferring to stay in the box and be the finishing point of PSG’s attacks.
Real Madrid have lacked a pure number 9 since Ronaldo left and they would find that in Kean after failing with Jovic and Mariano. He still has plenty of time to improve and become a top striker and a move back to Juventus if Ronaldo leaves could also be on the cards.
The winger: Diego Rossi
If Real Madrid or Juventus looked for a second-striker or winger profile to replace Ronaldo, Diego Rossi would be a very interesting choice. The Uruguayan forward can play on both wings or as a second striker so would quickly adapt to any tactic.
At 23, Rossi has outgrown the MLS and needs to leave Los Angeles FC to continue his development. Last season, he scored 18 goals and provided four assists in 26 matches, being one of the best players in the league. Of course, the level in the USA is lower but his 0.6 goals from 0.52 xG per 90 are difficult to ignore figures.
Coming from the wings, Rossi shoots a lot and from quite good positions. His 3.48 shots per 90 are one of the best in our analysis and his 0.167 xG per shot are around the average for the players we’ve analyzed, meaning he doesn’t only take speculative shots. With a goal conversion of 19.75% and 45.68% of his shots being on target, Rossi is a proven finisher with both feet.
Rossi bases his game on his intensity and positioning rather than on his ability on the ball. He can dribble but isn’t excellent at it and assists a lot (0.18 xA per 90) despite not being very involved in the attacks (just 26.64 passes per 90). His work rate also shows in the defensive phase and he wins 57.45% of the 4.04 defensive duels he gets in per 90.
Juventus and Real Madrid would be intelligent to take Rossi. He speaks Spanish but holds an Italian passport so the adaptation shouldn’t be a problem. He has just turned 23 and has already impressed for two top teams in America: Peñarol in Uruguay and Los Angeles FC in the USA. Maybe he needs an intermediate step before joining a top club but the data suggests he’s ready for a big step in his career and avoiding that middle club would make it much cheaper for a top club to get him.