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Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus

In one of the biggest and perhaps one of the most shocking transfers in history, Cristiano Ronaldo has made a €100 million move from European champions Real Madrid to Serie A champions Juventus. The man from Madeira is among the greatest to ever play the game but at 33 years of age the transfer fee and wage package are substantial even for a player of Cristiano’s undoubted quality. The question now is can Ronaldo achieve legendary status at a third giant of European football and more immediately – how will he fit into the starting XI of the current seven-in-a-row Italian champions? We take a close look at how Massimiliano Allegri may work the Portuguese legend into his side and how CR7 (as he is commercially known) can improve the Turin team.

What sort of player are Juventus buying?

Zinedine Zidane should take a lot of credit for getting the best out of his Real Madrid side over 3 years but also for getting the very best out of a changing Cristiano Ronaldo. At 33, CR7 is not the tireless runner he once was, preferring to reserve energy where possible so he can still be as effective as ever in the final third for his team. Zidane excellently managed Ronaldo’s playing time in the last couple of years to the extent that although he has slightly less time on the pitch, his goal scoring averages have not dropped. This however required a shift in position for Ronaldo from a goal scoring left-winger to a number #9, spearheading the attack. Ronaldo had resisted a move further forward in position previously as he felt coming in from the left gave him a bit more space as he wouldn’t be so tightly marked when out wide.

Up until the 2016/17 season, Ronaldo primarily played on the left of a 4-3-3 as seen above. From there he could find more space to receive the ball before using his pace and dribbling ability to cut inside onto his right foot.

In his first 2 seasons at the Bernabeu helm, Zidane had typically deployed a 4-3-3 with Ronaldo playing wide left on the attacking line. This formation gave Ronaldo his wish to play on the left-wing, linking up with left-back Marcelo and leaving a midfield 3 which got the best out of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

The Real Madrid starting XI in the 2016 UEFA Champions League final was deployed as a 4-3-3 with a world class player in each position.

The typical starting XI also had Gareth Bale deployed on the right-wing but in the last 12 months the Welshman has had injury problems while the young Spaniard Isco has risen in stature to become a mainstay in the Real Madrid side. Isco however is not a true winger, he lacks pace and power but is an elite technician and playmaker meaning his game is best suited in a more central role. What Zidane did to accommodate Ronaldo, Isco and his world-class midfield trio of Casemiro, Kroos and Modric was to change the formation to a 4-4-2 diamond.

Come 2018 Real Madrid’s starting XI had evolved under Zinedine Zidane to a 4-4-2 diamond when in possession. Often Isco could play slightly higher as a false 9 while Ronaldo and Benzema would drift into wide spaces before cutting inside.

Playing up front, typically with Frenchman Karim Benzema, meant Ronaldo did not have to shoulder as much defensive responsibility and could keep his focus on finding space in and around the opposition’s defence. Benzema would serve as a perfect strike partner for CR7, the Lyon academy graduate is a hardworking, selfless and intelligent footballer, willing to do what is necessary for the team so that their elite goal scoring machine Ronaldo can flourish. Cristiano as a result has become less and less involved in defensive phases of play for his side.

When playing as a winger for most of his career, Cristiano would contribute during defensive phases, tracking his opposite full-back. But 33 year old Ronaldo is more passive when his side are out of possession, reserving his energy for attacking phases.

But the 6’ 1” forward comes to life immediately when his team regain possession. His desire to score in every game is plain to see and that drive it is a huge part of what makes him one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time.

This clip is taken from the 2018 Champions League semi-final. Real Madrid are defending deep when Lucas Vasquez makes an interception and immediately breaks forward with Asensio. CR7 had been defending a Bayern set-piece before sprinting forward from his own box in the desire to get on the score sheet.

By the end of the move Ronaldo is outside the opposition’s penalty box watching his teammate Asensio tuck home the game winner. Although he doesn’t touch the ball in during the move, his desire to score never dwindled.

What makes CR7 the best goal scorer in the World?

Ronaldo’s physical attributes are plenty, he’s tall, lean, fast, strong and nimble and also has an incredible leap which wins him many an aerial duel. Ronaldo has an unsurpassed work rate away from the spotlight and has turned himself into an incredible athlete. But what he also has worked tirelessly on is the art of goal scoring. Boasting a ridiculous strike rate of 450 goals in 438 appearances for Real Madrid, CR7 scores all types of goals be it with either foot, headers, short range, long range and set-pieces there is no type of goal the man has not done many times over. Ronaldo has notably hit some absolute belters from range in his time. His athletic frame and his unique ball-striking technique have become a trademark of Ronaldo’s, copied the world over by kids in the park as well as his fellow professionals. Cristiano is also noted for his unique free-kicks and his superb penalty conversion rate but what sometimes goes under the radar is his aerial ability. Ronaldo scored 9 headed goals in the 2017/18 season for his club and is never cowed by any defender in the air.

With no space between the Villarreal back 4, Ronaldo pulls to the left looking to make an out-to-in run in the event of a lofted ball over the Yellow Submarine’s defence.

The ball is played wide left to Marcelo and Ronaldo makes a move inside, carefully watching the offside line in anticipation of a first-time cross from Marcelo.

When the left-back instead takes a touch, Ronaldo instantly readjusts to find space for the next likely pass, a lofted cross across the edge of the 6 yard box.

Here Ronaldo fancies his chances against most defenders, using is incredible leap to jump high above his opponent and hang in the air to meet the cross before clinically heading the ball into the far corner, leaving the Goalkeeper with no chance.

Cristiano will also use his spacial awareness to create space for teammates. As soon as a teammate breaks beyond the opposition’s midfield line, Ronaldo is off running toward the opposition goal. If there is no obvious space to attack, he will often pull out to the left to drag a central defender wide which creates space in the middle for a teammate to go through.

Ronaldo knows the Bayern defence are paying him close attention. Centre-back Niklas Sule is shadowing Ronaldo during Bayern’s defensive phases and thus follows him wide when Ronaldo makes the move left. This momentarily creates a gap in the Bayern defence which Gareth Bale notices and takes advantage of, moving unmarked from a deep position.

When looking for a through ball or a cross to get on the end of, Ronaldo will cleverly look to place himself on the blind side of his marker, watching intently to see when and where a pass may be made into the space beyond the closest defender while waiting for the last possible second to dart away from his marker and attack the ball with aggression.

Bayern CB Sule is in the correct position here. He’s holding the defensive line while keeping an eye on both Ronaldo as well as the current ball position. Ronaldo is hovering in the defender’s blind spot, watching his teammate in possession and waiting for the moment to pounce.

With his teammate getting the better of his marker and about to cross the ball, Cristiano makes his move – a short dash in front of Sule just as the defender is watching the ball. Ronaldo got there first but the Bayern CB did just enough to stop him scoring.

Another change of shape for Juve?

Juventus manager Max Allegri is known to be a very astute tactician and among the best coaches in the game currently. Allegri’s Juventus have constantly evolved their formation and style of play during his time as boss of the Bianconeri which has served to both get the best out of his ever changing yet always elite level collection of players and to keep opponents guessing. This changeability has hugely contributed to Juventus both winning seven Serie A titles in a row and reaching two of the last four UEFA Champions League finals. But neither of those finals ended in triumph for the Turin side and the desire to crown a very successful period in their history with at least one Champions League title runs very deep in Bianconeri hearts. And so enter Mr Champions League – Cristiano Ronaldo.

A move for Gonzalo Higuaín may be on the cards for the Argentine with Chelsea (perhaps soon with Higuaín’s former manager Maurizio Sarri on charge) reportedly interested in the former Real Madrid and Napoli striker. If such a transfer materialises Cristiano Ronaldo’s position would be easier to guess as Allegri would have no better man to place at the head of his side and could work in their current 4-2-3-1, directly replacing Higuaín.

Allegri’s preference for the last 12 to 18 months has been to setup his side in the above formation. Directly replacing Higuaín with CR7 would be an obvious upgrade and would maintain the current successful system.

A 4-3-3 would be less likely because although it may work for the midfield personnel at the club, it doesn’t suit Paulo Dybala. The diminutive Argentine is one of the finest young footballers in the game but is only suited to one or two positions. Dybala is best as a number 10, dropping off a strike partner to find space to create and score and so playing off of Ronaldo either as a strike pair or in the middle of the 3 in a 4-2-3-1 is a tantalising prospect for Juve fans.

This Juventus squad is cleverly assembled and has options for almost any conceivable shape. A setup that might work to get the best from all of their star players is a return to three central defenders, a formation which Juventus arguably made popular in the modern game. Whether it be a counter-attacking 3-4-3 or a possession dominating 3-5-2, either formation would comfortably fit Ronaldo and Dybala in preferred positions.

Former Juventus boss Antonio Conte deployed a very successful 3-4-3 formation at Chelsea in the 2016/17 season. The Blues were solid defensively and countered to devastating effect with the likes of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Pedro. The formation would arguably the most suited at Juventus given the personnel on hand.

The 3-5-2 is no mystery to Juventus. The formation was a regular sight at the Allianz Stadium for a few seasons until the loss of players like Pogba, Pirlo and Bonucci.

But there is an argument to say that Allegri may be missing a trick by letting Higuaín go. Gonzalo and Cristiano were teammates for a few seasons at the Bernabeu and won the La Liga title together in 2012. Playing two of the deadliest finishers in football together with Dybala in behind has to be a tempting prospect for Allegri.

Just like the 2018 Champions League winners, Juventus could deploy Ronaldo at the top of a 4-4-2 diamond. Higuaín and Dybala could emulate Benzema and Isco respectively to get the best out of Ronaldo.

Cristiano Ronaldo – Juventus legend?

He may be 33 but there has arguably never been a more driven individual in any sport than Cristiano Ronaldo to be recognised as the best of the best. Time has caused the Portuguese captain to change his game and while he may have lost some pace that has not taken away from his elite level spacial awareness and movement. He remains the deadliest player on the planet along with Lionel Messi and would enhance any team in the world.

Ronaldo has come to Juventus for a new challenge and you can bet your life he has his eye on smashing Serie A goalscoring records as well as aiming to win the Champions League with three different clubs. Juventus will be getting an extremely motivated, unsurpassed level goal scorer who could take the Turin giants to unprecedented levels of success.