I’m attempting to dip my toe into the deep, fascinating waters of football tactics. So here’s a very simple, and very short, look at Cristiano Ronaldo against AC Milan in the Coppa Italia.
Cristiano Ronaldo is used to being the centre of attention.
Nothing’s changed in that regard here – especially since I decided to focus on him when Juventus played AC Milan in the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final yesterday.
The highlighted zone below shows, incredibly simply, where he operated. In basic terms, he was looking to get touches on the ball in the space in-between the lines for a shot, or make late runs into the box to score from crosses (and sometimes, a mixture of the two).
Ronaldo played up front with Douglas Costa and Paulo Dybala either side of him. Initially, Ronaldo wasn’t playing on the shoulder of Milan’s defenders, or looking to run in behind and create space either. He moved in the space in-between the Milan defence and midfield.
You can see that in the photos below. In this one, he’s in-between the midfield and defence (demonstrated by the blue lines) so he can get a shot off when he’s closer towards Milan’s goal.
In this photo you can see that even after Milan had a man sent off and were playing deeper, leaving less space, he was still finding room to move.
But as the match went on this wasn’t his only course of action.
He wasn’t just dropping deep like a False 9 to get involved, or simply sitting in space. The highlighted zone in the first image shows that he had the freedom to move out wide – which he did. This is shown in the photo below, even if it is on the break (which Ronaldo can still execute as well as anyone in the world).
Another example of this was in the 18th minute, just after the sending off. It also includes what he was doing earlier.
Ronaldo was on the left wing, and eventually drifted inside, finding a pocket of space. Even as the play moved towards Milan’s box, he still didn’t make a run into the area straight away. He was very methodical with his movement, and always wanted to get involved in the build up play.
When he did get the ball outside the box and in front of the defenders, he, as you would expect, operated a shoot on sight policy.
In the photo below Dybala has the ball on the right hand side of the penalty area. Some Centre Forwards might make runs like the ones illustrated by the blue arrows – either to receive a pass and shoot when closer to the goal, or to drag defenders with them and give Dybala more space for a one on one.
Instead Ronaldo sat outside the area, received a pass from Dybala, showed some skill on the ball to shift it on to his left foot and then shot (that movement is shown with the red arrow). He’s got it in his repertoire to score from there, so why shouldn’t he have a go when he has the chance?
That photo shows what I mean (hopefully). Combining all the points of sitting in space, shooting when possible, and not making runs into the box all the time.
The corner that led to Juventus’s penalty was from Ronaldo not running towards goal straight away. He sat off, no one was in the box, so Dybala had a shot from outside the area. It then deflected off a defender for the corner.
But this wasn’t all he did. We all know Ronaldo loves to get on the end of crosses. So when he saw the opportunity to make runs into the box he obliged – they just weren’t constant. He does this in the photos below.
Here he is looking to get on the end of Danilo’s cross.
Here he’s calling for a ball in from Bernardeschi, seeing the space in the penalty area.
Here he’s moving off the back of the midfielder.
Then after that, he runs towards goal to get on the end of a cross (if Dybala lays it off on the overlap to his right) or pick up any spills from the keeper.
So a mix of finding space deep and then making late runs is what Ronaldo went with. He did lay the ball off at times to run into the penalty area, and then get on the end of a cross. In the 12th minute he drops deep to get a touch, lays it off for Pjanic who spreads the ball out to the right, then makes a late run into the box to get on the end of a ball in.
However he did show some rust – so Ronaldo is human. Coming back with higher fitness levels than before the Serie A suspension doesn’t stop you from misplacing a few passes it seems. But I’m going to guess he’ll get back into the swing of things sooner rather than later.
Even if he did shoot nine times without scoring and had a penalty saved – this variance in play easily shows why Ronaldo is Ronaldo.