Serie A 2019-20: Is Cristiano Ronaldo in decline?
All does not seem well for Cristiano Ronaldo as he found himself subbed off for the second game in a row. Ronaldo was substituted early in the second half of Juventus' match against AC Milan on 10 November, just days after he got substituted against Lokomotiv Moscow mid-week in the Champions League.
On both occasions the Portuguese showed his frustration, first reacting angrily in the Moscow game and then walking straight down the tunnel in the Milan match.
Ronaldo is having an uncharacteristically underwhelming season, netting just once in the Champions League and a mere five times in Serie A. That would have no doubt contributed to his frustration, but the reactions seem to also suggest some resentment towards his manager, Maurizio Sarri.
The Italian has attempted to quash rumours of tension between the pair, and also revealed Ronaldo is struggling with a persistent knee injury. Sarri told Sky sport Italia, “We must thank Ronaldo, because he made a sacrifice to be there at all tonight in a difficult situation. He did everything possible to play, but I saw he was not well and thought it best to take him off. It’s only natural a player is going to be irritated to leave the pitch, especially when he worked so hard to be there.
"Over the last month, he has had this little knee problem, he had a knock in training and it hurt the collateral ligament. When he trains at high intensity or plays, it unbalances him, so he ends up overcompensating and it damages the calf and thigh muscles," Sarri added.
Sarri further tried to calm the situation by saying he understood Ronaldo's reaction. “It is affecting his performances and he is not at his best at the moment. All players who are trying to give their best will have at least five minutes of being annoyed when they are substituted, but a coach would in general be much more worried if he didn’t seem upset,” he said.
This, however, raises more questions than answers. If Ronaldo isn't fit, why is he starting matches only to be forced off mid-game?
At 34, many people may simply assume Ronaldo's age is catching up with him. And while there is likely some truth to that, there seems to be more at play.
Ronaldo was able to produce several elite displays last season, including a hat-trick against Atletico Madrid and another hat-trick against Switzerland at the Nations League, which was mere months ago. A single summer seems unlikely to have had such a drastic effect, especially considering both those teams are significantly stronger than the average Serie A side.
Ronaldo's performances in general for Portugal seem intact. While Lithuania and Luxembourg are barely worth mentioning, Ronaldo has still scored against respectable sides like Serbia and Ukraine this season, both of which are no worse than the lower Serie A sides Juventus have struggled to break down.
It seems at least in some part that Sarri's system isn't helping matters.
This is statistically Ronaldo's worst ever season in terms of shots. In Serie A this term Ronaldo is taking 5.7 shots per game, a far cry from his time at Madrid where his highest ever in LaLiga was 7.4 per game.
It isn't just the number of shots either; it's also the quality. Ronaldo is having to resort to shooting from outside the box more and more, with far less coming from inside the penalty area.
This is likely a result of Sarri's system, which involves far less crossing than either Allegri's or Zidane's. Ronaldo is not being able to make the most of his lethal aerial ability, which is hurting his productivity. Sarri's short passing style also requires forwards to drop back more and link the play, taking Ronaldo away from the danger area.
The effects of Sarri's system haven't just been felt by Ronaldo either. Juventus have struggled for goals all season, scoring more than twice on just one occasion in Serie A this term.
Juve have scored a mere 20 goals in their 12 league games, the lowest number of the top 7 teams. In fact, despite his apparent woes, Ronaldo remains Juve's highest scorer with five. The other Juventus forwards have fared even worse this season; Paulo Dybala has three league goals and Gonzalo Higuaín only two.
With the whole Juventus squad struggling for goals, and similar complaints during his time a Chelsea, perhaps it is fair to conclude that Sarri's system is limiting the Portuguese's performances.
Be it injuries, a constricting tactical setup, bad form or merely old age, something doesn't seem right with Ronaldo. Whether this is a blip or something more serious, we'll likely learn more as the season goes on.