With more than a third of the season played in European clubs, ESPN analyzes the situation of both superstars in their new teams
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen so many top-level moves in a month and the summer 2021 transfer window saw the two best players of the modern era, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, join new clubs. Ronaldo made a sensational return to his old club, Manchester United, after three seasons at Juventus, while Messi left Barcelona as a free agent once talks about a new contract broke down, signing with Paris Saint-Germain less than a week later.
However, both stars have found that until now, the grass isn’t always greener when major changes are made. Ronaldo He has had excellent personal performances for United (nine goals in 12 appearances), but the club has been caught in a spiral of negative results, with only one Premier League win since mid-September. In the meantime, Messi and PSG they already have a 10-point advantage in the League 1 and they are heading towards the round of 16 of the Champions League (with Messi scoring three times), but the Argentine star has yet to score in the League 1 (five appearances) and has suffered several minor injuries along the way.
With more than a third contested of the European club season, ESPN’s Mark Ogden (Ronaldo) and Julien Laurens (Messi) analyze the situation of both superstars in their new teams.
The season so far
Ronaldo: Two goals on his debut in the 4-1 win against Newcastle gave Ronaldo a dream start to his second spell at United. Although the team’s results have been inconsistent since Ronaldo returned (5 wins, 6 losses and 2 draws), their individual contribution has been remarkable, with 9 goals, some even going to win games or rescue draws.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Ronaldo against Young Boys with the match tied to one goal, and the change was followed by a goal from the Swiss team that determined the victory, while the coach also left him on the bench for the home draw against Everton.
Ronaldo has delivered time and time again for his team. The only low points have been the team’s poor results, which have left Solskjaer fighting for his place. Without Ronaldo’s contribution, Solskjaer might not have survived that long.
Messi: So far, Messi in Paris is the story of a glass half full or half empty. If you look at it from the perspective of Ligue 1, it is the latest: 5 games, 349 minutes, 0 goals, 0 assists, 15 shots (4 on goal), 1.47 expected goals, 1 great opportunity created and 1.6 successful dribbles per play. There is a feeling that he is still adapting to PSG and also to the French league, which is much more physical than LaLiga.
If his arrival is taken into account, taking the Champions League as a reference, the glass is half full: 3 games, 289 minutes, 3 goals (a wonderful goal against Manchester City (2-0) and the winner against RB Leipzig (Panenka-style) 2.40 expected goals, 9 shots (5 on goal), 3.7 dribbles per game. Messi knows the Champions League, and that might be enough to explain his problems in Ligue 1, where the teams who face PSG are usually a compact bass block.
What is working and what is going wrong?
Ronaldo: There are two contrasting views on Ronaldo at United. The first is that his incredible scoring record makes the tactical problems that his presence in the team can cause worthwhile, such as his limited defensive contribution and a sense of selfishness when he has a chance to score. However, Ronaldo generally complies.
The alternative perspective is that Ronaldo upsets the balance of the team and without him United arguably would be a stronger unit and goals would be distributed more evenly across the team. It is also a reality that Solskjaer has had trouble coming up with a formula to make his team robust enough on defense when Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba have played together.
In trying to accommodate all three players, Solskjaer has left his defense exposed far too often. Furthermore, Pogba’s brilliant start to the season came to a halt once Ronaldo arrived and Fernandes, as has happened with Portugal, is not as influential as before Ronaldo’s return to United.
ESPN reported in early October that Ronaldo had urged Solskjaer to find a way to get him the ball faster in the attacking areas, and sources have also said that the lack of understanding between Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood is causing concern.
Ronaldo has been both positive and negative for United so far, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Yes, there are tactical issues to address, but that is Solskjaer’s job, not his most famous player. Ronaldo has simply done what he was hired for, scoring goals and signing decisive performances in the big games. Sources have said that his great professionalism and desire to continually improve has raised the level of the team, and that he remains a humble character on training ground despite his star status.
Messi: As incredible as the Argentine is, it has taken time for him to adjust to the biggest change in his professional life since he was 13 years old. At that time, he left Rosario for Barcelona. This time, it was a much shorter trip from Catalonia to the French capital, but it is still a very different life. Even the traffic in Paris is much heavier than in Barcelona, to the point that it surprised the Messi family!
On the field, this is a new team with a new coach (Mauricio Pochettino) who is still looking for the right tactics and the optimal way to unite all the stars of PSG. It took Ronaldo four league games and more than 20 shots before finally finding the back of the net with Juventus after his arrival from Real Madrid in 2018.
For Messi, it is also taking time. He has been performing better when he plays more centrally behind Kylian Mbappé, rather than being stuck on the right wing where he no longer has the energy or pace to impact the game. Messi needs to get involved and for that to play in the center is much better for him. He has been more dangerous, even in Ligue 1, when he played more in the middle.
It also helps the team enormously when it comes to overcoming rival pressure. Obviously, their lack of defensive work has also been noted, and the team has yet to find the right balance in defensive transitions.
Messi has also been hampered by persistent minor injuries that have made his adaptation difficult. He has already missed half of PSG’s league games this season and was not against RB Leipzig and Bordeaux in the Champions League and Ligue 1, respectively.
Was it the correct move?
Ronaldo: Would the Portuguese superstar have been a great success at Manchester City? He certainly would have scored a lot of goals and had a better chance of winning a major trophy this season, but United is in his DNA and it would have been a mistake if he had worn a blue jersey instead of a red one.
The fact is that United are not yet at City level and need a talisman in a way that Pep Guardiola’s team does not, so United is a perfect fit for the Lusitanian. Ronaldo wants to be the center of attention and the player who makes it possible. He also wants to be the hero and has already done it on several occasions with United.
He would have been more successful as a City player, but there is a feeling that his second spell at United will prove more personally rewarding than anything he could have achieved at Etihad. It just depends on whether Ronaldo finally wants to be judged on trophies or something more difficult to quantify.
Messi: In short, it was Messi’s only option. From the moment Barcelona informed him that they could not offer him a new contract, PSG was the only viable new destination. However, it fit perfectly with what the six-time Ballon d’Or winner wanted: a club capable of paying his huge salary, a very strong team where he could win another Champions League after lifting it in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2015 with Barcelona. , a place where he could play with friends and former teammates (Leandro Paredes, Neymar, Ángel Di María) and where the coach (Pochettino) would understand, a city where his family would be happy and a club where the Messi brand could continue to grow.
Paris and Messi are a great game on paper. After a rocky start, both sides have a responsibility to make this incredible opportunity work and optimize.