At least on paper, no face off bigger than that between Ronaldo and Bale could possibly happen at Euro2016. CR7 and GB11 are, respectively, the previous and the current world’s most expensive player, they are the two biggest stars of Real Madrid, and they are, at least, two of the top 5 players in the world. If you told anyone before the tournament that the two will meat at the semi-final of all places, he will laugh at you, but they are.
In this article we will, in detail, discuss the big question of who is having the better tournament.
It’s safe to say that neither player is a part of a top team (like Germany, Spain.. etc). Still, both Wales and Portugal are in the semis while some of these big teams aren’t, and both Bale and Ronaldo definitely had a hand in that, even if not so consistently. Also, both players are obviously the stars of their respective teams. The similarities end here.
One of the big advantages for Bale over Ronaldo is that he has been playing almost pressure-free. People were never expecting much from Euros-debutant Wales, surely not this much. If Wales didn’t reach the quarter final, there won’t be much talk about disappointment. Portugal, however, have reached the semis in 3 of the last 5 Euros before this tournament. Ronaldo himself is asked to take his team far, especially with his rival reaching the final of his continental tournament, despite the clear difference in difficulty between the two tournaments.
As for the tactical part, Wales operate much better as a unit in their attacks than Portugal, who mostly depend on the individual quality of their players. All of this resulted in Bale getting (much) more space to create danger than Ronaldo. 40% of Ronaldo’s shots were blocked. Bale on the other hand had only 10% of his shots blocked. (You might say this is due to Ronaldo trying to shoot all the time, but only 20% of the same Ronaldo’s shots were blocked during his last season with Real Madrid). This shows how little Ronaldo is helped by his teammates’ movement and link-up play in contrast to how much space Bale gets as a result of his team’s well-organized offence. Another important point to make is that Bale is playing in his favourite position as a roaming player behind the CF while Ronaldo is playing more central and upfront than he would wish, even if not 100% caged in the penalty area.
It should also be mentioned that Bale played “only” 31 games with Real Madrid while Ronaldo played 48 (55% more). Furthermore, Ronaldo is 31 and Bale is 26. If fatigue is getting to one of them, it’s definitely Ronaldo.
Overall, circumstances, whether mental, tactical, or physical, clearly favour the Welsh.
When you talk about the likes of Bale and Ronaldo, goals and assists are the first thing to discuss. According to UEFA, both players contributed in (i.e. scored or assisted) four goals : 2 goals and 2 assists for the Portuguese, and 3 goals and 1 assist for the Welsh. However, Ronaldo’s 4 constitute more of his team’s total (4 out of 6 – 66%) than Bale (4 out of 11 – 36%), which adds to the point that Wales’ are better at attacking as a unit than Portugal. Four out of four of Ronaldo’s contributions were crucial, meaning that if you remove one of them, Portugal wouldn’t be where they are. On the other hand, three out of Bale’s four were as such.
A draw in the end product department, with Ronaldo having the edge when it comes to decisiveness.
This might be surprising for some, but, to put it blatantly, Ronaldo wins here. According to Squawka, Ronaldo created twice as many chances as Bale and made 1.5 as many key passes passes as his club-mate. To be fair to the Welsh, Ronaldo playing higher up the pitch definitely played a part in that.
Bale made 8 clearances, Ronaldo made 6. Bale made 3 interceptions, Ronaldo made 0 (Source : Sqwauka.com). Bale is clearly winning so far. A look at heat maps of both superstars will only (slightly) increase The Welsh’s lead, as those show that he tracks back more than his club-mate.
To keep it simple, I would just describe each player performance in each match he played in a few words.
Iceland : Created serious danger in a couple of occasions, but had an average-at-best game overall.
Austria : Active and constantly dangerous, but no end product.
Hungary : Outstanding. The best performance of any player in Euro2016.
Croatia : Connected well and was heavily involved in his side’s winning goal. Couldn’t do much more.
Poland : Excellent movement and link-up play, terrible finishing.
Slovakia : Decisive. Very good performance overall.
England : Subpar game despite the goal.
Russia : Excellent, probably his best game in the tournament.
Northern Ireland : Very good.
Belgium : Best defensive game, but not doing anything worthy in offence.
As you can see, Bale has generally been a bit more consistent (neither of them was all that consistent), but he didn’t have any performance near to Ronaldo’s performance against Hungary. Plus, if Ronaldo’s finishing was as good as it usually is, nobody will talk about him having a bad Euro since he is mostly doing well with everything else (outside free kicks of course).
Who Will Shine ?
If I had to choose one, it would be Ronaldo. If you follow CR7 well, you will know that this is almost a rule : If Ronaldo gets many easy chances in a match but not score any, you don’t want to be his next opponent… because he will tear you apart. The last example of this “rule” happened not so long ago : Ronaldo missed several chances, including a penalty, against Austria. The game after against Hungary, he scored twice, one of the goals being a brilliant back-heel, and made an excellent assist. He also made a habit of stepping up in crucial times, his game against Hungary being the last example of that too (Portugal vs Sweden 2013, Portugal vs Czech 2012, Portugal vs Netherlands 2012). Ronaldo will score on Wednesday. However, I am not saying that Bale will flop. This might be the biggest game of his life, not just because he can lead Wales for a final against all expectations, but also because he can prove that he is worthy of taking Ronaldo’s spot as Real’s #1. Whether Bale takes that as an extra motive or an extra pressure is up to the Welsh superstar.