Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid and Portugal National Team – what differences?

There are two clear facts about Cristiano Ronaldo. First, he is undoubtedly one of the best players ever in soccer history. Second, he is a rather different player than the one who first appeared on the world stage. He is no longer that type of player who liked to have the ball on his foot through dribble used to open up spaces between the opponent defenses.

No one realized faster than himself that this style of play wouldn’t allow him to maintain a high level, consistently, for a long time. And so, he has changed, becoming a player capable of reading and attacking spaces like no other player in history.  This ability to perceive the best opportunities, along with a superior finishing ability has made Ronaldo one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time.

His first goal in the UCL final against Juventus marks this change. 

In his early days, Ronaldo would have chosen the one-on-one against the defender, but not anymore. He pulled the defender to the center opening up space for the fullbacks support. Next, he has manipulated the defensive line  in a perfect way in order to create time and space to shoot.

Real Madrid manage to maximize Ronaldo´s abilities. The team choses to attack down the left flank, and both Marcelo and Isco are extremely creative players that usually occupy that space. Benzema is, on the other hand, the most advanced player involved in the build-up. On the other hand, Benzema is the most advanced player in the field involved in the build-up. 

Ronaldo prefers an opposite side of the ball approach, allowing him to have a general view and therefore, being able to choose the best space to attack. 

It´s clear that Fernando Santos takes some ideas from Real Madrid team. The tactical system is practically the same – Portugal also has an adventurous left back who often moves into attack, and lately the Portuguese coach has also been placing Bernardo Silva as the player in charge of the connection between the midfield and the attack. However, the Portuguese team is still far from Real’s effectiveness.

Ronaldo’s heat map when playing for Portugal

Ronaldo’s heat map when playing for Real Madrid

In observing Ronaldo´s heatmaps, one may see the differences immediately. In the national team, he’s much more involved in the build-up and therefore he touches the ball much more often. However, he’s much farther away from the goal. Another key difference is that Portugal prefers to attack down the right flank, precisely the same space that Ronaldo usually occupies. If we take this into account, is likely that it is not Ronaldo who will finish these same moves.

The groundwork is there. Still, Portugal needs to find more creativity in the midfield in order to relieve Ronaldo from that responsability. Progress has been made, as Bernardo Silva has had the opportunity to play in the starting line-up. Nevertheless, there is still something missing in the left side that can complement Raphael Guerreiro´s verticality. Adrien also needs to move to the right so that Bernardo Silva can freely occupy the center. As for André Silva, he needs to step down on the field so that he can get more involved in the build-up, allowing Ronaldo to concentrate on the finishing. This is the only way for Portugal to take full advantage of having one of the best goalscorers of all time.