However you choose to measure it, Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the greatest soccer players the world has ever seen. Even so, eyebrows were raised when Juventus splashed out an incredible amount of money to sign the 33 year old from Real Madrid. In total, the cost of the transfer plus the player’s salary and taxes is said to be costing the Italian champions an eye-watering €340 million.
It’s a simply stunning outlay, and the reason for it seems clear: Juventus want to win the Champions League. The Old Lady has had few troubles in Serie A in recent times, winning the last seven titles in a row and amassing 95 points in 2017/18, which was the second most in their history. They also scored 86 league goals, which was their best tally since 1959/60.
How do Juventus compare to Europe's elite
But their record at Europe’s top table is surprisingly modest. Juventus have won the European Cup or Champions League just twice, which puts them on par with the likes of Benfica, Porto and Nottingham Forest, and behind both Internazionale (with three continental titles) and Milan (with seven) in the Italian rankings.
In Ronaldo, Juventus have signed the Champions League’s premier goal scorer.
The last season where the Portuguese forward wasn’t the competition’s joint-top or outright top scorer was 2011/12, and he is comfortably the leading all-time goal getter with 120 in total.
Indeed, Ronaldo scored home and away to knock Juventus out of the competition in 2017/18, and he scored against them twice in the final the season before. Juventus haven’t just bought a top player, they also appear to have removed their nemesis from a rival.
The arrival of Real Madrid’s record scorer in Turin has seen Gonzalo Higuain move to Milan on loan. Is it possible to quantify the difference the new striker will make when compared to his predecessor? It’s difficult to get a concrete answer, but we can certainly try.
The difference between Ronaldo and Higuain
For starters, their goal-per-game rates were markedly different, with Ronaldo scoring almost twice as many for Real as Higuain managed for Juventus. Cristiano netted 1.03 goals per appearance for the current European Champions, and 1.07 for every 90 minutes he spent on the pitch.
By contrast, Juve’s Argentinian striker bagged 0.52 goals per appearance, or 0.59 per 90 minutes. Take these figures at face value, and it would seem Ronaldo will be approximately worth an extra goal every two matches when compared to the man he has replaced. Here's a table of his complete league stats taken from Understat.com.
But it’s worth noting Higuain has played for Real Madrid too, and when he did his goal scoring figures were more impressive, as he found the net 0.69 times per 90 minutes. It’s still a fair way behind Ronaldo’s record, but it points to a fact which is hugely important here.
Goals are scored more frequently in Spain than they are in Italy.
However, the gap isn’t as wide as you might assume. Despite Serie A’s reputation for tight, defensive soccer, the Italian top flight has seen 2.73 goals per game across the last four seasons, while La Liga matches have averaged just 0.03 more in the same period.
It’s interesting to look at the expected goal data for the two leagues, which can be obtained via the Understat website. Since the summer of 2014, the average Serie A game has featured 2.60 expected goals, whereas in Spain it has been 2.66 per game. The gap between the two countries is greater on the underlying stats than in actual goals, but what does that actually tell us?
After scoring first midweek in the Champions League, Ronaldo is 4.33* to score first in Juventus' match against AC Milan this weekend.
The difference between the two figures means that four percent more goals have been scored in reality than the underlying data would suggest in Spain, but in Italy that difference is five percent. There isn’t much between the leagues, but the numbers suggest it is slightly easier to score in Italy, at least when compared to expectations from the chances available, even if there are more goals in Spain overall.
It looks like Juventus have signed the right player
This difference is even more apparent when looking at Ronaldo’s former and new clubs. Real Madrid have outperformed their expected goal tally by 16 percent over the last four seasons, but that figure is 24 percent for Juventus.
Perhaps the most pertinent gap between the two players is on their underlying statistics. Although Ronaldo’s non-penalty shots were only worth 0.01 expected goals more than Higuain’s on average, the fact he shoots far more often makes an enormous difference.
At Real Madrid in 2017/18, Juve’s new man averaged 7.0 shots per 90 minutes, with 5.5 of them being taken from inside the box. For Higuain those figures were 3.3 and 2.2 respectively, and so Ronaldo was recording over double the amount of non-penalty expected goals.
In short, Ronaldo had more chances and they were of better quality, and he has now moved to a league where it appears it is easier to score and especially for the very top team. Based on that, he should easily score more than Higuain did last year, and he should be looking to get close to 30 Serie A goals.