What’s changed: Comparing Cristiano Ronaldo’s first and second spells at Manchester United



Cristiano Ronaldo’s unhappy season at Manchester United continued as he remained on the bench throughout defeat to Manchester City, prompting former captain Roy Keane to accuse the club of disrespect.

he Portugal great remained a Manchester United player following a summer of speculation around his future but has started only one Premier League game this season, with his only goal coming in the Europa League against Sheriff Tiraspol.

Here, independent.ie assesses Ronaldo’s impact in his second spell with United, and how it compares to his first.

Shooting star


Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo shoots during the Premier League match at the King Power Stadium, Leicester. Picture date: Thursday September 1, 2022.

The final three seasons of Ronaldo’s first spell at Old Trafford, in which he hit double figures for league goals each year and peaked at 31 in 2007-08, saw him average almost six shots per 90 minutes.

That exalted figure – which he surpassed in some seasons with Real Madrid but is in line with the most prolific shooting seasons for his long-time rival Lionel Messi and exceeds any mark achieved by the likes of Harry Kane or Robert Lewandowski – translated into his goal tally, thanks to converting almost 10pc of his shots in both 2006-07 and 2008-09, when he scored 17 and 18 league goals respectively.

The leap past 30 in 2007-08 came on a conversion percentage of almost 18pc – and on 174 shots, slightly down from 180-plus in the seasons either side. In his first season back, he needed a similar conversion rate (16.4pc) merely to reach 18 league goals, having taken only 110 shots and barely four per 90 minutes.

He is back up to 5.2 shots per 90 in his limited involvement this season, without scoring.

Changing style


Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United

Ronaldo’s overall game has shown a marked change between leaving Old Trafford in 2009 and returning last summer.

Having made his name as a teenage winger after arriving from Sporting Lisbon, he steadily took on more of a finishing role and, after his move to Spain, evolved into an out-and-out centre-forward – and that is reflected in his level of involvement in the game and the nature of his contributions.

Having approached 2,000 total touches in 2006-07 and 2007-08, he broke that threshold in 2008-09 and averaged 2,018 touches for those three campaigns – the earliest for which such data is available on the Premier League’s official website.

Last season, by contrast, he was on the ball just 1,237 times in the league – in slightly less playing time, but the difference of around 300 minutes, or 11pc, from his average season before leaving is minimal compared to the near-40pc drop-off in involvement.

Adding in this season, 9.1pc of Ronaldo’s touches since returning to the club have been shots, up just slightly on 8.9pc over his prolific scoring seasons before leaving.

More noticeable, though, is the increase in passing which now accounts for over 70pc of his touches, compared to 58.5pc before his departure. The combined figure is up from 67.4pc to 79.9pc, perhaps reflecting a decrease in dribbling since moving to a central role.



Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring his hat trick goal and his sides third goal of the game during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture date: Saturday March 12, 2022.

Ronaldo’s goals gained United 14 points last season, almost a quarter of their 58-point total and a tally exceeded only by his 31-goal season 14 years previously when his efforts were worth 19 points.

He scored almost 42pc of United’s 57 league goals, breaking 40pc for the second time after 2007-08, and his effect on their win percentage was striking.

United won 14 of Ronaldo’s 27 starts, 51.9pc – and while that percentage is the lowest of Ronaldo’s United career, their win ratio dropped all the way to 18.2pc in the games he did not start. They averaged 1.70 points per game with him in the XI, compared to 1.09 without.

Starting on the bench in the wins over Liverpool, Southampton, Leicester and Arsenal sets up a different story in the early stages of this season and Keane pulled no punches after the derby loss.

“I think Man United are just showing disrespect to Ronaldo,” he told Sky Sports. “I think he should have been let go before the transfer window. You don’t hold on to Ronaldo to sit on the bench. He’s one of the greatest players ever.”


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