With the World Cup in Qatar just around the corner, roster speculation will reach a fever pitch. Everyone has an opinion on who should be given a place in Qatar. Additionally, there are countless permutations in the potential lineups within a given team.
The official deadline for coaches to submit 26-man teams is November 13. This is just one week before the tournament starts. The last games of the club happen that same day. Trainers wait to see what damage is dealt before finalizing their templates. Injuries are a common theme, unfortunately. Also, coaches can look at recent form without the usual break before a World Cup.
During the World Cup, I will be covering the Portuguese national team (the Seleção Portuguesa de Futebol) for World Soccer Talk. During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, I lived in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Portugal is a country proud of football in any circumstance, but during that World Cup they faced historical rivals.
The Portuguese faced Brazil in the group stage and Iberian neighbors Spain in the round of 16. It was exciting to be among the passionate Portuguese fans in these grudge matches. It was not meant to be for Portugal that year. However, the Portuguese collected two trophies in recent years. Portugal won the European Championship in 2016. Then, three years later, the nation won the inaugural UEFA Nations League.
Expectations for the Seleção are always sky high ahead of a big tournament. For the past 19 years, those expectations have rested on the shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo. The undisputed top scorer in football history, Ronaldo is one of the greatest to ever play this beautiful game.
His club, Manchester United, failed to qualify for the 2022/23 UEFA Champions League. The star striker made his desire to move away from Old Trafford very clear. He has continued to show his discontent with United’s new boss, Erik ten Hag.
Coming into the World Cup, Ronaldo spent more time on the bench than he has been happy with. His form is not at the historical heights that he expects of himself. With a talent as prodigious as Ronaldo’s, could Fernando Santos really leave him on the bench?
Is Cristiano Ronaldo left out of the World Cup starting eleven?
A proposed line-up is no different from the line-ups Santos chose for the Nations League in June. Back then, Portugal defeated both Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
However, there are some big names left out. João Mário is terrorizing the media across Europe with Benfica and the numbers speak for themselves. He ranks in the 95th percentile compared to all midfielders when it comes to goals. Similarly, Renato Sanches at PSG is finding form at the right time to earn a place on the starting sheet.
The most obvious omission is, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo. I followed a fairly simple process to pick at each position, although Santos has gone with a 4-3-3 most of the time. This XI relies on a 4-4-2. However, Bernardo Silva on the left wing is very used to going up the pitch.
Looking at the statistics, Ricardo Horta is in the 90th percentile for Goals Without Penalties. Also, he is in the 92nd percentile for the number of shots made. This campaign he has 11 goals and assists in all competitions with Braga.
Rafael Leão played for the Milan team that won the Scudetto last season, and is ranked in the 98th percentile in goals without a penalty and in the 99th percentile in number of shots taken. Leão is at the top of the forward food chain at the moment and has 12 goals and assists in all competitions for Milan.
Cristiano Ronaldo is not matching his compatriots with just 4 goals and assists in all competitions for Manchester United, ranking in the 80th percentile for non-penalty goals but in the 95th percentile for shots.
Adding to the squad
Obviously, football is more than statistics.
Cristiano Ronaldo knows how to perform on the biggest stages. He has five Champions League crowns and five Ballon d’Ors alike. The World Cup is the only gap in his trophy case.
That said, Ronaldo will reach the end of his career at some point. Santos will have to balance CR7’s ego with the chance to field two fit players with just 16 games between them. It remains to be seen if Santos has the ten Hag discipline to bench Cristiano Ronaldo at the World Cup.
But, the numbers don’t lie.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Xinhua