Cristiano Ronaldo: Are Man Utd being helped or hindered by Portugal legend?

Fans were excited by Cristiano Ronaldo's return from Manchester United this summer. He has scored some important goals, but would the team be better without him?
The Premier League's most prominent signing was the return of the prodigal son from Juventus. This happened just days after it appeared that he would join Manchester City.

After scoring four goals in his three first games, he only scored two in the next six against Villarreal (and Atalanta) - despite both being late Champions League winners.

United have changed their playing style to accommodate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, five-time Ballon d'Or winner. His team is now further from the elite after a 5-0 defeat at home by Liverpool.

Leonardo Bonucci, a former teammate, believes Juventus would be a better team without him. Graeme Souness, a former Liverpool and Scotland captain does not believe he should start at United.

Ronaldo is Ronaldo helping or hindering United?

What is he doing well?

Ronaldo scored three goals in six Premier League matches. He scored two against Newcastle in his first match and one against West Ham in his last. But it's not an outstanding return, even by Ronaldo's high standards.

He scored 17 goals in 34 league games during 2006-07, his fourth season at United.

He was the third highest scorer in Premier League. Didier Drogba won with 20 the Golden Boot.

Although it's still early days, 14 other Premier League players have scored more Premier League goals this season than Hwang Heechan (Wolves) and Watford's Ismaila Saarr (Watford).

His greatest achievements have been in the Champions League, where he is the all time top scorer with 137 goals.

These two winners were the difference between United winning the group by six points and being at the bottom with three points less than the other two.

He has six goals in total for Manchester United, taking his total to 124. Real Madrid's record is 450 goals, with 115 goals for Portugal, 101 for Juventus, and five for Sporting Lisbon.

He is a number nine now, just as he was for many years - far from the tricky winger that English fans first saw when he arrived from Sporting.

He ranks joint 216th in Premier League touches with 243, but he ranks joint 16th in opposition area touches with 39.

Ronaldo is eighth in Premier League's shot count (25), just behind United teammates Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes and Bruno Fernandes. He is joint ninth in shots on target (nine).

Sky Sports pundit Souness stated that "He will score goals and excite crowds, but I don’t think he can be a player in every game."

"I would choose him but it must be said that he won't be starting every single game, but will have a significant influence over the next nine months."

Consider his overall impact.

It's not the best. Even though it's not his forte, the statistics he has to offer are quite stark.

Only one outfield player in the Premier League - except those who have played less than 15 minutes – has had fewer successful presses this season than Ronaldo's 0.74 per minute. That is Everton defender Mason Holgate.

Statsbomb data from FBREF shows that external-link Ronaldo is 384th in presses per 90 minutes, and 385th in successful ones. This season's Premier League saw 429 players, which includes goalkeepers.

Edinson Cavani, who was their striker in 26 Premier League games last season, averaged 3.86 successful presses per 90 minutes.

Mark Ogden, an ESPN journalist, said to BBC Radio 5 Live that Ronaldo has changed the season. They have a man at the front who does not do much work.

"Cavani takes everything down. He is a leader, he motivates the team and helps them to succeed. United is more cohesive if Ronaldo is not there.

Micah Richards, BBC Sport pundit, said that Ronaldo is a "style of play." What's the balance? If Ronaldo is available, you will get him. You should get some people to support him and do his job.

Ronaldo has won possession only three times in the Premier League third place match this season. He also played 48 passes in his half.

He is also a distant third for passes overall - joint 208th with169 (143 successful) and 195 players who have completed more than his two attempts.

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What has he done to improve United's overall play?

United's play this season is markedly different: They are more direct, they make more crosses and they press less.

"He [legitimately] can argue that he's the greatest footballer ever, but when it comes to making Manchester United a stronger team, he could not be more wrong. After the Liverpool loss, Souness said "No."

Ronaldo won Serie A with Juventus in his first two seasons, but they finished last year in the top 4, ending their nine-year reign of champions.

Bonucci, Juve's Juve Defender, said that the team had played for Bonucci last year. The group needs to re-discover the Juve spirit they had before he arrived.

Bastian Schweinsteiger, a former United midfielder, said on BBC Radio 5 Live that he agreed with Leonardo Bonucci about the fact that Juventus would be better without Cristiano Ronaldo.

"Wherever Ronaldo goes, he is the main focal point, but if Juventus was there before Ronaldo went, they performed both as a team, and as an XI."

United is seventh in the Premier League, with 14 points from nine games. They are eight points behind leaders Chelsea.

They were at 16 points last season, but they were ninth due to the fact that most other teams had played an additional game.

They were to be even better after signing Raphael Varane, a France defender from Real Madrid and Jadon Sancho, an England winger from Borussia Dortmund.

The Red Devils are in the Champions League with the same start as last year, sitting at the top of their group with six points from three games.

They are quite different in how they play this season, and Ronaldo has made a significant impact on their game.

United will be putting in more crosses this season than ever before, with Ronaldo being a legendary airman.

In terms of cross-play, they have moved up to 7th place from 17th last year. In 2020-21, the average game was 11.2 and has now increased to 14.2.

Ronaldo has yet to make a head effort in the Premier League this year - even though his Champions League win against Atalanta was with him.

United is worse at pressed sequences this season - an indicator of how fast they press from the front. They finished second among the 20 teams last year, but they are now seventh.

They are now ranked 12th in opposition passes allowed for defensive action, which means that they have become more disruptive of opponents' passing moves.

United have made a major change this season, attacking faster than ever before.

They are the Premier League's top-ranked team for how far a team moves forward in a move.

Solskjaer's side has also made improvements in direct attacks and speed.

Karen Carney, a former England striker, doesn't think their style has changed much.

"They have tried changing the way they play in recent times - it's not just Ronaldo. She said that United has a great away record due to their low block and counter attack.

Souness said that they have a problem because Ole can't play the game the way he wants. They won't be as pressing as the best teams, but if one person isn't committed to the press, everyone can escape.

"He won’t give it to you so they will have a different brand - that Ole doesn’t really want to play."

United have covered more ground in six of the six Premier League games Ronaldo has played since his return, but the same was true for two of the three matches that he played before him.

Ronaldo has undoubtedly changed Manchester United's season. Solskjaer is under pressure and contemplating how to turn the team around. The Norwegian may be looking at these stats and wondering if the return of the icon has improved his side.