I sat back on Thursday evening to watch Manchester United face Arsenal at Old Trafford on Amazon Prime. Luckily missing all the usual pre-match ramble from ex-players wallowing in nostalgia for “oh remember when this game was actually good?” stuff.
In 2021 it actually is still good, ironically with a player from the mid-noughties at the heart of the drama.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s two goals secured a vital 3-2 win to usher in the Ralf Rangnick interim-era, an era of pressing with a forward who does not press, oh no! How could such a conflict ever be resolved in the Premier League?
Pretty easily in fact, by playing the bloke who scores your goals.
I was someone who was bemused by United’s panicked move for Ronaldo back in August.
Not for the fact obviously, he’s Ronaldo. More a reflection of the very reactive nature of Man United’s recruitment.
After chasing Jadon Sancho for two years to then go against that by jumping for a 36-year-old forward who could stunt a £73m star’s development, it all felt so Ed Woodward’s United.
But away from that or the celebrity of Ronaldo, a more bizarre phenomenon has taken hold.
It seems on a near-weekly basis I am told Ronaldo is a problem for Man United’s attack, only to then watch him produce their best moments.
It would be disingenuous to completely dismiss why some bring up the issue of Ronaldo’s presence, mainly in relation to his complete lack of pressing from the front. Which in European football has become an accepted staple of the continents most effective teams.
I am someone who appreciates the style of counter-pressing adopted by Pep Guardiola, Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp.
I am someone who likes to look at PPDA numbers on WyScout after games to see wider pressing trends across the Premier League.
However, I am also someone who enjoys seeing goals scored and appreciates a ruthless finisher who puts away chances like they are going out of fashion.
Pep and Klopp have probably managed to find the perfect marriage of both pressing and ruthless finishing.
If you are still with me and also are a fringe rebel who believes goals matter, then Ronaldo’s masterful finish into the bottom corner on Thursday rubber-stamped why Chelsea broke their transfer record for Romelu Lukaku.
Thomas Tuchel has better pressing forwards than the Belgian in Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi, but none offer the ruthless finishing of Lukaku.
No Premier League side under-performed their xG more than Tuchel’s Chelsea since his appointment in January to May.
Like Ronaldo’s lack of pressing in United circles has caused debate over the team’s style, Lukaku in other ways has provoked similar questions.
Why did Chelsea need Lukaku anyway?
They are European Champions, what’s the issue?
The last piece of the puzzle, what puzzle are they trying to fix?
Tuchel’s intricate system cannot function with a player who consistently puts the ball in the back of the net.
These all may sound like ahead of the curve arguments but they lead me to conclude some forms of football discussion have been engulfed by over-intellectualism.
Because simply having a football player whose outstanding at putting the ball into the opponents net on a freakishly consistent basis must be deemed an issue, rather than a blessing gets a bit silly.
I cannot believe it has taken me nearly 600 words to mention Timo Werner but Werner probably offers the best argument as to why Chelsea chased an elite finisher all summer.
Bought for £45m the previous year for his incredible 2019/20 campaign with RB Leipzig, the German endured a very challenging first season, only racking up six Premier League goals.
His rapid speed, relentless work rate and good movement made him a consistent starter in Tuchel’s team, assisting or scoring key goals on route to the Champions League win.
However, a consistent flurry of poor misses cast doubt over his ability to become the trusted finisher Chelsea needed to reclaim the Premier League title.
Werner’s performance against Ronaldo’s Manchester United rubber-stamped this issue.
Fielded as the central striker, missing a glaring opportunity a player of his level and price should be burying.
Both Ronaldo and Lukaku would have hit the target, almost definitely scored.
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Lukaku may take away some attributes coaches desire, but he’s become notorious at excelling in the game’s most defining stat and that will be priceless for Tuchel over the course of this season.
His goals in the opening weeks of the season with limited chances further demonstrated this.
Call me old-fashioned, but I like strikers to score goals.
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