Cristiano Ronaldo was once again Manchester United’s saviour on Thursday night after he finished superbly past Chelsea ’s Edouard Mendy to rescue a point for his side.
It was on the whole another forgettable display from United as they were dominated for large periods of the 1-1 draw with Thomas Tuchel’s men. With chances few and far, Ronaldo had a quiet evening on either side of his goal, however, he was still the subject of high praise from Gary Neville after the game.
“He came to score goals, and he’s scoring goals. He must be incredibly frustrated. It’s (team’s performances) not what he wanted at the end of his career, not what he wanted on his return to Manchester United, but he still continues. His persistence, his determination to continue to contribute to score goals is absolutely incredible. You can’t really speak highly enough of him.”
Of Ronaldo’s 23 strikes across all competitions this season, 17 have come in the Premier League, that’s five short of Mohamed Salah who’s the division’s current top scorer on 22. However, if we remove penalties, Salah (17) is just two clear of Ronaldo (15).
Given Salah is in his prime years and largely considered as the Premier League’s best attacker, it’s hugely impressive that Ronaldo has been able to keep pace, particularly given that he leads the line for a dis-jointed United side while Salah plays for one of the best-attacking units currently in world football.
Ronaldo’s goal record does in some ways silence many of his critics who would have preferred that the club utilise the money spent on fees plus wages to secure the services of a younger attacking prospect in the summer instead.
However, it’s still hard to ignore the ways in which he can hinder United away from strictly scoring goals. The 37-year-old is no longer a facilitator and offers very little in terms of build-up play. He’s managed just three assists all season, and according to Wyscout has averaged just 0.33 key passes per 90.
That’s a pass that immediately creates a clear goal-scoring opportunity for a teammate and Ronaldo’s average in this department ranks 73rd from all the Premier League forwards who have played over 600 league minutes.
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It’s also very hard for United to press coherently without the ball with Ronaldo leading the charge. According to FBref, of the 127 forwards who have played over 600 Premier League minutes this season, he ranks bottom in terms of making the fewest number of pressure per 90 (6.76).
This will be a big contributing factor to why there are 12 sides in the Premier League who have a better average than United in terms of PPDA this season – that’s a metric that measures how many passes the opposition is allowed to make on average before defensive action is attempted by the team without the ball.
Ronaldo remains United’s best goalscorer by some distance, and they’d undoubtedly be much worse off without his goals this season. However, the drawbacks of having a 37-year-old lead the attack are becoming increasingly hard to ignore.