The question about whether or not Ronaldo should play centrally has been a polarizing one among Madridistas. Should Ronaldo vacate the left wing he currently enjoys so much to go play in a position that may make him less effective? Or should Ronaldo move to the middle and potentially raise the overall ceiling of the team?
The answer to this question is not easy, as it involves doing something that Ronaldo himself does not prefer. Ronaldo has always loved the space he is afforded when drifting in from the left wing. Playing in a central role could limit the space Ronaldo has thrived in for years.
Can Ronaldo play centrally? All signs point to yes. Still exceptionally athletic, Ronaldo possesses the attacking capability to play as a true centre-forward. As many have previously discussed, this position-change might be the best way for Ronaldo to prolong a world-class career.
As Ronaldo’s physical traits begin to decline, he will be less able to play on the wing. The Portuguese already plays as a psuedo-striker, but a full-time switch is conceivably much more difficult.
The most impressive trait Ronaldo possesses in the box is his movement. By using his movement effectively, Ronaldo is able to put himself into dangerous positions to create goals. Cristiano’s instincts and Footballing IQ, coupled with his athleticism and finishing ability make him an ideal potential number 9.
So why should this transition happen now as opposed to a few seasons ago? Well, Real Madrid might not have a choice. The club has so much talent to put on the field, and sliding Ronaldo over to the middle could help solve this issue. By replacing Benzema with Ronaldo in the lineup (something that would not draw the ire of many fans), Zidane would be able to play both Isco and Gareth Bale (or Asensio) in the same lineup.
This potential solution could apply not only to tactical flaws, but also the political ones that arise from having a player like Gareth Bale. A lineup with both Isco and Bale may be the best lineup for Real Madrid, while also keeping the same midfield trio Madrid has rolled with for the past season and a half.
However, the most obvious reason for the change involves the club’s depth at striker. With Mayoral technically serving as the “back-up” right now, Madrid’s options to replace the likes of Karim Benzema should he pick up an injury are slim. Ronaldo offers an easy out to this situation.
Not only do you have someone who can serve as the 9 in the Frenchman’s stead, but you also have a more creative and potentially more balanced side. Ronaldo has been criticized in the past for not tracking back while the team is defending. This has occasionally hurt the team, especially when Marcelo ignores his defensive duties as well.
By having a guy like Isco or Gareth Bale now on the left wing, you’ve created a more defensively stable lineup that doesn’t require Ronaldo to really track back at all.
We already saw how effective Ronaldo could be at centre-forward last season. Whenever Benzema was injured or subbed off, Ronaldo moved to the middle and produced some of the best performances in his career. A hat-trick at the Calderon, and a bucketful of goals in the latter stages of the Champions League knockout rounds highlighted the Portuguese’s time at Striker.
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 107 Champions League goals. Such an immense goalscoring record. Appreciate him while he's still playing.— Liam Canning (@LiamPaulCanning) September 13, 2017
If the past is anything to go by, Ronaldo has the physical and mental attributes of a world-class striker. But Ronaldo only has a semi-proven track record of playing as a 9, and there is still not enough evidence for every fan to feel completely confident if the move became full-time.
Whether we think Cristiano will make the move full-time at some point this season remains to be seen, but it is undeniable that he will be playing as the spearhead at least once or twice this season. Zidane and Madridistas alike should watch carefully when those chances arise.