Ronaldo a success at Juve, Pirlo can prosper as coach - Nuno Gomes

By Sports Desk August 24, 2020

Cristiano Ronaldo has proved any doubters wrong following his move to Juventus despite the Italian club's failure to conquer Europe, according to Nuno Gomes.

Ronaldo opted to leave Real Madrid in 2018 after winning a fourth Champions League title in five years, exiting as the Spanish side's all-time leading scorer to continue his career in Serie A.

While the Portuguese has collected two league titles since the sensational switch, Juve have come up short in European competition. They fell at the quarter-final stage to Ajax in 2019, while this season suffered a shock last-16 exit at the hands of Lyon.

Missing out on reaching the revised knockout rounds in Portugal led to a swift change in coach, Maurizio Sarri sacked as Andrea Pirlo was surprisingly given the job, but Gomes does not believe the Champions League shortcomings reflect badly on Ronaldo.

Speaking to Stats Perform News, the former Portugal international used his compatriot's impressive numbers at Juve - he has scored 65 goals in all competitions so far - as proof he remains at his peak.

Asked if he believes Ronaldo has been a success since moving to Italy, Gomes replied: "I would say yes, because they have won the title twice in Italy. However, that it is not enough for Juventus, it is not enough to win the Italian title.

"For him, personally, after a big change, some were expecting he might not do well outside of Real Madrid, but he proved in terms of his records, his statistics, he was very good in these two seasons at Juventus.

"He scores a lot, he plays all the games and with his age, to perform at such a top, high level, he is the best."

Following his appointment, Pirlo will be tasked with not only continuing Juve's domestic dominance but also improving their fortunes in Europe.

The ex-Italy midfielder had only just taken charge of the Under-23 squad at the Bianconeri when he received a rapid promotion, yet Gomes is backing Pirlo to overcome his lack of experience to prosper in the role.

"All the coaches, they have to start from somewhere, no?" Gomes - who had a spell in Italian football with Fiorentina - said. "This is a big opportunity for him, it's a big challenge in his first time as coach.

"But he will have the support of the players, of the club and of the fans, so he has everything to become a good choice from the club to be the new manager.

"Of course, he was an amazing player as a footballer, and I believe also he will become a very good coach."

Juve will hope Pirlo can follow the example set by Zinedine Zidane, who steered Real Madrid to three Champions League final triumphs in his first spell after being promoted from within.

"You can compare with Zidane, as they were playing in similar positions in the field. It's funny, because a lot of players that become coaches, a lot of them they used to play in midfield," Gomes continued.

"So you know Pirlo, he was the 'maestro' of the team when he was playing, and you could see even the way he was playing he would become a coach at the end of his career, as was Zidane.

"Pirlo is a much-respected name and I think the players will help him achieve what he wants."

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    Ronald Koeman will get his first taste of El Clasico from a dugout when Barcelona host Real Madrid on Saturday.

    The LaLiga champions head to Camp Nou after a pretty rotten week in which back-to-back home defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk have left fans and pundits alike thoroughly disillusioned with Zinedine Zidane's current approach.

    Barca also lost 1-0 in their previous league game, away to Getafe, but a 5-1 thumping of Ferencvaros in the Champions League was a tonic and, in truth, that defeat at Coliseum Alfonso Perez felt more like an aberration during what has mostly been an encouraging start under Koeman.

    The Clasico is always the acid test, though – and Barca, barring a dramatic change in system, will line up for this one in a 4-2-3-1 formation, something they have not done for at least the previous 46 meetings.

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    Nobody need tell Koeman about Barca's traditional adherence to 4-3-3. He had enough experience as a player for the Netherlands and the Blaugrana to know such a system like the back of his hand, even if Johan Cruyff's peak 'Dream Team' – such as the one that won the 1992 European Cup final through a Koeman extra-time goal – thrived instead in a 3-4-3.

    The fact is, though, that Barca have doubled down on 4-3-3 since Frank Rijkaard took charge in 2003. He, Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, Gerardo Martino, Luis Enrique, Ernesto Valverde and, eventually, Quique Setien – all have either stuck religiously to the system or at least made good use of it.

    That rings true in the Clasico, too. Since the 2005-06 season, there have been 46 matches between Barca and Madrid in all competitions, and Barca have started in a 4-3-3 in 39 of them. Four games have seen them set up in a 4-4-2, and one each in 3-4-3, 3-5-2 and 4-3-1-2.

    It's yielded mixed success, as you might expect. Barca won 17 of those 39 games in 4-3-3 – a 43.6 per cent winning rate – and lost 12. They scored 71 goals and conceded 53.

    In 4-4-2, they won twice, drew once and lost once, scoring eight goals and conceding four. The 3-4-3 was, fittingly, a 3-3 LaLiga draw in October 2007; the 4-3-1-2 was that famous 3-2 win for Barca at the Santiago Bernabeu under Luis Enrique in 2017, when Lionel Messi scored his 500th club goal; and the 3-5-2 was used by Valverde when they lost 2-0 in the Supercopa de Espana second leg in the capital three years ago.

    Koeman's set-up, then, is a big departure from the norm. But will it work against Madrid?

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    Koeman explained this month that 4-2-3-1 was preferable because of Barca's lack of wingers. "Looking at the quality that we have, this formation is perfect for the team," he told Barca TV.

    Fans may not have warmed to the idea at first, but Koeman's approach makes sense – and there are certain players thriving in this formation.

    For one thing, it gets Ansu Fati involved closer to goal. In four league games, the young Spain star has attempted 15 dribbles, created three chances and scored three goals. The freedom to cut inside from the left has also liberated Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest at left-back, each of whom have also created three goalscoring chances. Given Madrid presently have no fully fit right-backs, that should worry Zidane.

    Another to benefit is Frenkie de Jong, a player who admitted to underwhelming in his first season after joining from Ajax for an initial €75million. He has performed positively in a central axis, usually alongside Sergio Busquets, asserting himself in games far more even though Barca's average possession figure has dropped to 59.2 per cent, lower than in any of the past 11 seasons.

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    And Messi? Koeman said before the Ferencvaros game that his captain's form "could be better", and he had a point – one goal (a penalty) and zero assists from four league games is an unusually modest return. He is also averaging 3.9 shots per game, his lowest rate since 2007-08.

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    Away victories against Newcastle United and Paris Saint-Germain have boosted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side as they look to put the 6-1 home humbling against Tottenham behind them.

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    "Of course we are aware of their dangers, as we know they have signed many very good and important players," Mata told the Pitch to Post podcast.

    "Attacking-wise, defending-wise they have got a great squad. So we know what they are capable of and we need to be ready for that.

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    "It was exactly what we needed after the defeat at home," he said about the Newcastle and PSG triumphs.

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    Greenwood was not part of the squad for United's victories over Newcastle United and Paris Saint-Germain, owing to what Solskjaer put down to a "niggle".

    The 19-year-old was sent home from England duty last month for breaching coronavirus protocols and subsequently dropped by Gareth Southgate for this month's triple-header.

    Reports suggested Solskjaer had grown frustrated with the teenage academy product and warned the youngster about his punctuality.

    However, speaking ahead of Saturday's clash with Chelsea, the United boss dismissed those claims and took aim at the media.

    "I'm not concerned at all with Mason making a target for himself," Solskjaer said. "He came in, played fantastic, played in the league for the first time against Tottenham and was brilliant. 

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    Greenwood has made 37 Premier League appearances for United since his debut in March 2019, scoring 10 times, assisting one and laying on 10 chances for his team-mates.

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    "Addressing our home form is key. The whole lockdown period has made us do things differently at home so we may need to find a different way to beat them."

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