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Friday, July 19, 2024

Cristiano Ronaldo said the Saudi Pro League is better than Ligue 1 – so we tested it on FM24

Another day, another bold claim from Cristiano Ronaldo.

The five-time Champions League winner previously said that the Saudi Pro League was better than Major League Soccer. Now, he has made similar comments about the French league: “I think right now we (the Saudi Pro League) are better than the French league.”

The majority of people are probably not in any rush to find out if Ronaldo’s team Al Nassr would make the top four in Ligue 1 — but I am part of the small minority who will lose sleep if I do not get some answers.

We put his last theory about MLS to the test with the help of Football Manager, which you can read here. Now we’ve carried out further experiments to examine Ronaldo’s latest theory. Here are the results…


Setting up the match

For this match to matter, it needs to take place in the form of a competitive fixture, and not in a random friendly.

In our Saudi Pro League vs MLS experiment, we rebranded the Community Shield as the ‘Was Ronaldo Right Cup?’ and we’ve done the same again here. We are now into the second iteration of what is quickly becoming a nonsense idea an important fixture in the calendar.

Arsenal became the Ligue 1 all-stars, and Manchester City were given a new look and feel as the Saudi Pro League all-stars.

Slaven Bilic, in charge of Al Fateh, got the nod ahead of Steven Gerrard to lead the latter, while Paris Saint-Germain manager Luis Enrique was in the other dugout.


How the teams were picked

In real life, injuries would keep a lot of big names out of this clash — Neither Neymar nor Nuno Mendes would play in this fixture if it happened tomorrow.

But if we get too pragmatic here, we may stray dangerously close to an unthinkable place where people may question what the point of this article even is. So, in the interests of conducting the best possible piece of serious, accurate and well-researched journalism, we removed all existing injuries from players.


Will Neymar prove he left the farmers league — or joined it? (Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)

As for the teams, the Saudi team is a who’s-who of high-profile and expensive players. The Ligue 1 side is also full to the brim with talented players. If you think I’m missing someone, feel free to question my knowledge of French football in the comments below.

There are only 10 PSG players in the Ligue 1 all-star squad and both teams have 25 players in total.


The teams

Saudi Arabia all-stars

Goalkeepers: Edouard Mendy, David Ospina

Defenders: Kalidou Koulibaly, Aymeric Laporte, Luiz Felipe, Merih Demiral, Roger Ibanez, Alex Telles, Renan Lodi

Midfielders: N’Golo Kante, Marcelo Brozovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Fabinho, Ruben Neves, Seko Fofana, Georginio Wijnaldum, Franck Kessie

Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Karim Benzema, Riyad Mahrez, Allan Saint-Maximin, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Yannick Carrasco

Ligue 1 all-stars

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Donnarumma, Brice Samba

Defenders: Achraf Hakimi, Marquinhos, Nuno Mendes, Presnel Kimpembe, Vanderson, Jean-Clair Todibo, Melvin Bard, Chancel Mbemba, Samuel Umtiti

Midfielders: Fabian Ruiz, Vitinha, Youssouf Fofana, Khephren Thuram, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Angel Gomes, Jordan Veretout

Forwards: Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Randal Kolo Muani, Alexandre Lacazette, Jonathan David, Takumi Minamino, Folarin Balogun


Luis Enrique and Bilic in full control

In the first test, there were shock absentees. Mbappe, Donnarumma and Dembele were left on the sidelines for the Ligue 1 side and Ronaldo, Neymar and Benzema bench-watching for the Saudi all-star team.

Even without all of that star power, it was still a close battle. We simmed the game 10 times, with Ronaldo’s team winning six. But he only managed to score twice, with Mbappe only slightly bettering his total with three goals.

FM24 Ronaldo experiment no Mbappe

Ronaldo is the reason this whole thing even took place, and when it actually happened, all he could do was sit on the bench preparing the half-time slices of orange for the rest of his team-mates.

In his defence, the Saudi Arabia team won the majority of matches, which does prove his point but also shows that the league may be so strong that his services would not be required.

Game Ligue 1 Saudi Arabia Winner Ligue 1 goals Saudi Arabia goals Ligue 1 xG Saudi Arabia xG

1

1

3

Saudi Arabia

Mbappe

Kessie, Ronaldo, Milinkovic-Savic

0.75

1.37

2

0

4

Saudi Arabia

N/A

Milinkovic-Savic (2), Firmino, Saint-Maximin

1.32

2.09

3

2

3

Saudi Arabia

Kolo Muani, Minamino

Carrasco, Milinkovic-Savic, Mane

2.22

1.94

4

2

1

Ligue 1

Balogun, Mbappe

Saint-Maximin

1.54

1.17

5

1

1

Ligue 1

Kimpembe

Kessie

1.11

1.87

6

3

0

Ligue 1

Kolo Muani (2), David

N/A

0.56

1.29

7

3

3

Ligue 1

Minamino, Hakimi, Mbappe

Mane (2), Saint-Maximin

1.17

0.67

8

0

2

Saudi Arabia

N/A

Carrasco, Fofana

1.52

1.41

9

1

2

Saudi Arabia

Kolo Muani

Milinkovic-Savic, Ronaldo

1.21

2.02

10

0

0

Saudi Arabia

N/A

N/A

1

1.34

Averages

1.3

1.9

1.24

1.52


Star players in the starting XIs

Luis Enrique and Bilic have had a nice run, but it was time for us to take the reigns and inject more chaos into this tie and make sure the biggest names in both squads started the fixture.

The Saudi Arabia all-star team did not stand a chance, losing eight out of 10 matches by an average scoreline of 3-2. Benzema and Ronaldo only managed to score four times each across three matches. The one caveat here is that the Ligue 1 all-star team was basically PSG 2.0.

FM24 Ligue 1 vs SPL

Ronaldo’s original comments were aimed at the overall quality of the league. He was not thinking of loading up a video game and channelling his inner nerd to see how an all-star match might play out as I have done here.

Game Ligue 1 Saudi Arabia Winner Ligue 1 goals Saudi Arabia goals Ligue 1 xG Saudi Arabia xG

1

6

0

Ligue 1

Kondogbia, Kolo Muani, Todibo, Mbappe, Minamino, Fofana

N/A

5.15

0.54

2

3

1

Ligue 1

Dembele, Thuram, Mbappe

Neymar

3.95

1.55

3

3

0

Ligue 1

Dembele, Mbappe, Fabian

N/A

3.82

1.83

4

1

3

Saudi Arabia

Dembele

Mahrez, Milinkovic-Savic, Benzema

1.56

0.87

5

4

4

Ligue 1

Fabian, Dembele, Kolo Muani (2)

Benzema, Milinkovic-Savic, Ronaldo (2)

2.96

1.55

6

2

1

Ligue 1

Fabian, Mbappe

Laporte

1.65

1.04

7

4

2

Ligue 1

Dembele, Fabian, Kolo Muani (2)

Ronaldo, Kante

3.32

0.67

8

4

2

Ligue 1

Thuram, Kolo Muani (2), Dembele

Benzema (2)

3.82

1.57

9

1

0

Ligue 1

Mbappe

N/A

0.86

1.11

10

0

2

Saudi Arabia

N/A

Ronaldo, Mahrez

1.78

1.48

Averages

2.90

1.80

2.89

1.22

This did not feel like a complete experiment until we tested the quality of the entire league, so it was time for one final test. The only logical solution here would be to create a super league comprised of the best teams in France and Saudi Arabia to see how they would fare across the board.


How things would play out across an entire season

To the surprise of nobody, PSG cruised to another league title. We also put Al Hilal and Al Nassr in the Champions League, but neither side reached the quarter-final, with PSG winning the tournament. They also won the French Cup.

The average league position of Saudi Pro League teams was 10th and for Ligue 1 clubs, it was eighth. We worked this out by scoring: the higher up the table you finish, the lower your score is. A lower score means on average that the league performed better, and in this instance, French teams finished two positions above Saudi teams on average.

FM24 Ligue 1 table Ligue 1 overview FM24

Ronaldo originally said that there are only “two or three teams who are a good level” in France. But in this experiment, those comments rang true for Saudi Pro League teams. Al Hilal and Al Ittihad qualified for the Champions League, with Al Nassr securing a Europa League spot.

Outside of that, the rest of the clubs did not do much to impress, with the two relegated teams, Al Fateh and Steven Gerrard’s Al Ettifaq side, coming from Saudi Arabia.

Ronaldo’s appearances Ronaldo’s goals Trophies Average rating

47

16

0

6.96


Conclusions

Aside from learning that I have way too much time on my hands, we discovered that Ligue 1 teams outperformed their Saudi Arabian counterparts.

In the simulations, all of the Saudi Pro League teams spent pretty heavily on signing new players, as they would likely do in real life. The total transfer spend across all of the teams we put in Ligue 1 was £482million ($609m).

Team Transfer spend (£m)

Al Nassr

146

Al Ittihad

122

Al Ahli

116

Al Hilal

69

Al Shabab

9

Al Taawoun

8

Al Fateh

7

Al Ettifaq

3.5

Al Fayha

1

Average

53.5

Each team’s transfer outlay in this experiment only further adds fuel to the suggestion that Ronaldo’s comments are more applicable to teams in the league he plays in. Three teams spent over £100million, one team spent close to £70m and the rest spent less than £10m.

The results are conclusive. This was not the endorsement Ronaldo was looking for in his quest to prove that the Saudi Pro League is better than Ligue 1.

(Top photos: Getty Images)



Read the full article here

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