Cristiano Ronaldo masterclass proves Roman Abramovich’s record Chelsea call was right – Daniel Childs
I sat down on Thursday night to watch Manchester United take on Arsenal at Old Trafford on Amazon Prime. Thankfully, missing out on all the usual pre-game ramblings of former players wallowing in nostalgia for “oh, remember when this game was really good?” thing.
In 2021, it’s actually still good, ironically with a mid-2000s player at the heart of the drama.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s two goals ensured a vital 3-2 victory to usher in the interim era of Ralf Rangnick, an era of pressing with a striker who does not press, oh no! How could such a conflict be resolved in the Premier League?
Pretty easily actually, playing the guy who scores your goals.
I was someone who was stunned by United’s panicked move for Ronaldo in August.
Not for the fact of course, it’s Ronaldo. More a reflection of the very reactive nature of the recruitment of Man United.
After chasing Jadon Sancho for two years only to then go against that by jumping for a 36-year-old striker who could delay the development of a Â£ 73million star, it all seemed so Ed Woodward’s United.
But far from that or Ronaldo’s stardom, a stranger phenomenon has set in.
It seems like almost every week I’m told Ronaldo is a problem for Man United’s attack, only to then watch him produce his best moments.
It would be misleading to completely ignore why some are raising the issue of Ronaldo’s presence, mainly in relation to his complete lack of pressure from the front. Which, in European football, has become a staple of the continent’s most effective teams.
I am someone who appreciates the style of counter-pressing adopted by Pep Guardiola, Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp.
I am someone who enjoys looking at PPDA numbers on Wyscout after matches to see broader pressing trends across the Premier League.
However, I’m also someone who likes to see goals scored and appreciates a ruthless finisher who rules out chances like they’re out of fashion.
Pep and Klopp probably managed to find the perfect marriage between a pressing and ruthless finish.
If you’re still with me and also a marginal rebel who thinks goals matter, then Ronaldo’s masterful finish in the bottom corner on Thursday explained why Chelsea broke their transfer record for Romelu Lukaku.
Thomas Tuchel has better forwards than the Belgian in Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi, but none offer Lukaku’s ruthless finish.
No Premier League team has underperformed their xG more than Tuchel’s Chelsea since being appointed from January to May.
Just as Ronaldo’s lack of pressure in United circles sparked debate over the team’s style, Lukaku has, in other respects, prompted similar questions.
Why did Chelsea need Lukaku anyway?
They are European champions, what’s the problem?
The last piece of the puzzle, what puzzle are they trying to solve?
Tuchel’s complex system cannot work with a player who systematically puts the ball in the back of the net.
All of these arguments may seem ahead of the curve, but they lead me to conclude that some forms of football discussion have been swallowed up by over-intellectualism.
Because just having a football player who manages to put the ball into the opponent’s net incredibly consistently has to be seen as a problem, rather than a blessing becomes a bit silly.
I can’t believe it took me almost 600 words to mention Timo Werner, but Werner probably offers the best argument as to why Chelsea chased an elite finisher all summer.
Purchased for Â£ 45million the previous year for his incredible 2019/20 campaign with RB Leipzig, the German has had a very difficult first season, registering just six Premier League goals.
His fast speed, hard work pace and good moves made him a constant starter in Tuchel’s squad, assisting or scoring key goals on the road to Champions League victory.
However, a constant wave of bad duds has cast doubt on his ability to become the trusted finisher Chelsea need to reclaim the Premier League title.
Werner’s performance against Ronaldo’s Manchester United confirmed this problem.
Aligned as a central striker, missing out on a glaring opportunity that a player of his level and price should be burying.
Ronaldo and Lukaku both reportedly hit the target, almost definitely scored.
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Lukaku may take away some attributes that coaches desire, but he has become known to excel at the game’s most defining statistic and that will be invaluable to Tuchel during this season.
His goals in the first weeks of the season with limited chances demonstrated it again.
Call me old-fashioned, but I like forwards to score goals.
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