EPL

Ronaldo returns to Man Utd: How Solskjaer can line up with Cristiano back at Old Trafford

By Sports Desk August 27, 2021

Cristiano Ronaldo is heading back to Old Trafford.

Going into Friday, it seemed as though Manchester City would be signing one of United's all-time greats.

On Friday morning, the deal appeared to be edging closer – Ronaldo was pictured leaving Juventus' training ground before coach Massimiliano Allegri confirmed the 36-year-old was departing the club altogether.

Yet in the time it took for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Pep Guardiola to complete their pre-match news conferences, the deal had turned on its head.

By early afternoon in the United Kingdom, City had pulled out to leave United as clear front-runners and, just before 17:00 BST, Ronaldo's sensational return to Old Trafford had been confirmed.

United reached an agreement with Juve for the attacker, who scored 81 goals in 98 Serie A matches after joining from Real Madrid in 2018, nine years after his first spell in the Premier League ended.

The €23million (£19.7m) deal is subject to the completion of personal terms, a medical and the acquisition of a visa, but none of those are expected to cause issues.

So, with Ronaldo set to be back in the fold, Stats Perform assesses how United are likely to line up.

4-2-3-1: David de Gea; Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw; Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba; Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford; Cristiano Ronaldo.

GK: David de Gea

While he's probably no longer regarded among the world's very best goalkeepers, De Gea still edges out Dean Henderson for a place in this team at the moment, though he is sure to be pushed hard once the England international returns from injury. De Gea played 26 times in the league last season and conceded 32 goals from an expected goals against (xGA) value of 28.1, meaning he was culpable for the concession of nearly four goals over the course of the campaign. Henderson, on the other hand, outperformed his xGA figure of 13.8 by only conceding 12 goals in the 13 appearances he made, giving him a 'goals prevented' record of 1.8 – this suggests he was the more dependable of the two goalkeepers, and his save percentage of 76.5 was significantly better than De Gea's (65.2) as well.

RB: Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Wan-Bissaka made 34 league appearances last term. Of all defenders in the top flight, only Leeds United's Luke Ayling (61) registered more successful tackles than the former Crystal Palace full-back (54), though his success rate of 61.4 per cent was better than the former's (56.5 per cent). Wan-Bissaka also improved his contributions to United's attack with six goal involvements, a figure bettered by only six defenders, while just four kept more than the 13 clean sheets he recorded.

CB: Raphael Varane

Ronaldo will be joining up with one of his former Madrid team-mates, with World Cup-winner Varane having previously arrived to bolster United's defence. Out of LaLiga defenders to contest 20 or more aerial battles last term, Varane led the way with a 76 per cent success rate, which vastly improves on Victor Lindelof's 59.4 per cent aerial success rate from last season.

CB: Harry Maguire

Alongside Varane, Maguire adds leadership and Premier League experience. The England man won 63.8 per cent of his duels last season, while his aerial prowess should help United dominate in both boxes. His ability with the ball often gets overlooked, and expect to see plenty of long diagonals from left to right, where Jadon Sancho or Mason Greenwood will no doubt be waiting.

LB: Luke Shaw

Shaw does have Alex Telles as quality competition but there is no doubting the 26-year-old's place in this XI. Of Premier League defenders, only Trent Alexander-Arnold (77) created more chances than Shaw (72) last term, while the left-back created an average of 2.4 opportunities per 90 minutes, the most in the league among defenders.

CM: Scott McTominay

Ronaldo's signing does mean one thing; Solskjaer has to be bold with his team selections. With so much attacking quality at his disposal, the Norwegian must, outside of the biggest games, dispense with a midfield duo of McTominay and Fred, and it is the Scotland international – who is currently out injured – who should get the nod.

CM: Paul Pogba

A long-standing issue with Solskjaer's preferred 4-2-3-1 is whether or not it gets the best out of Pogba, who starred for France at Euro 2020 in a midfield three. That has not been much of an issue so far this season as he's been filling in brilliantly on the left in Marcus Rashford's absence, with Pogba already registering five assists, becoming the first player in Premier League history to manage that tally across the opening two games of a campaign.

RW: Jadon Sancho

If Ronaldo is one for the here and now, then Sancho is a player for United's future, though the ex-Borussia Dortmund flyer is of course a star in his own right. He seems likely to alternate with Greenwood for a role on the right. He scored 38 goals and provided 45 assists in 104 Bundesliga appearances for Dortmund; since his debut in October 2017, only Thomas Muller (91) and Robert Lewandowski (137) managed more direct goal involvements prior to the start of 2021-22.

AM: Bruno Fernandes

Ronaldo will not be the only Portugal star on show at Old Trafford. Solskjaer's team has been built around Fernandes, who created a league-high 95 shooting chances last season, assisting 12 goals and scoring a further 18. His hat-trick against Leeds on the opening day of 2021-22 also has him joint-top of the scoring charts after two games.

LW: Marcus Rashford

Rashford is currently recovering from surgery on a shoulder injury that plagued his 2020-21 campaign, with Pogba, Anthony Martial, Sancho, Greenwood and Daniel James – if he stays put – likely to battle it out for a place on the left in the meantime. Ronaldo, of course, can also play from the left, though it seems he will be much better utilised as the focal point in United's attack.

ST: Cristiano Ronaldo

United have Edinson Cavani, but there can surely be no doubt who will start in the majority of matches. Ronaldo is a bona fide superstar who has – alongside Lionel Messi – sustained his success at the highest level for almost 20 years. Ronaldo is the only United player to score 30+ goals in a season in Premier League history (31 in 2007-08), and while that record may seem out of reach, his arrival could have transformed the Red Devils into genuine title contenders.

Related items

  • Wimbledon: Hurkacz ace pledge reaches €2,100 but seventh seed exits early Wimbledon: Hurkacz ace pledge reaches €2,100 but seventh seed exits early

    Hubert Hurkacz sent down 21 aces in his first-round match at Wimbledon, enough to raise €2,100 for the people of Ukraine but not enough to reach the second round.

    The seventh seed, who was a semi-finalist at the All England Club last year, promised on the eve of the championships to donate €100 in aid for every one of his aces.

    "Hope my serve works well," Hurkacz wrote on Twitter, and it certainly did across five sets against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

    Having averaged 11.6 aces per match this season – his 452 the third most on the ATP Tour – Hurkacz had 21 to just three double faults in an effective serving display on Monday.

    Unfortunately, Davidovich Fokina was still able to pull off an early upset, narrowly advancing 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 5-7 2-6 7-6 (10-8).

    This was the third top-10 win of Davidovich Fokina's career but the first on grass, with his previous two such victories both coming at the Monte-Carlo Masters (vs Matteo Berrettini in 2021 and versus Novak Djokovic in 2022).

    While Hurkacz will not add to his ace tally, John Isner undoubtedly will.

    He had a remarkable 54 in his five-set win against Enzo Couacaud – as many as Hurkacz managed across six matches in his 2021 run to the last four.

    The last player to record 50 or more aces in a grand slam match had also been Isner, against Steven Johnson at the 2020 US Open.

  • Wimbledon: 'Now we're at 80, let's get to 100' – Djokovic makes history with latest victory Wimbledon: 'Now we're at 80, let's get to 100' – Djokovic makes history with latest victory

    Novak Djokovic became the first male player in the Open Era to win at least 80 matches in all four grand slams with victory over Kwon Soon-woo in the first round of Wimbledon.

    The world number three, who is seeking a seventh crown at SW19 to take him level with Pete Sampras and behind only Roger Federer (8), advanced 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4 on Monday.

    That was Djokovic's 80th win at the All England Club in what was his 90th match, adding to his 85 wins at the French Open, 82 at the Australian Open and 81 at the US Open.

    He has won 22 matches in a row at Wimbledon since retiring in his quarter-final with Tomas Berdych in the 2017 quarter-finals, and is 17-0 in first-round matches in the event.

    With 328 grand slam wins to his name, Djokovic is second only to Federer (369) in that regard, with fellow heavyweight Rafael Nadal – in action on Tuesday – boasting 305 wins.

    "I am as dedicated as anyone out there," Djokovic, playing his first match on grass this year, said in his interview on Centre Court. "Now that we're at 80, let's get to 100.

    "I'm not one of the youngsters any more, but the love for this sport still burns in me and I try to play my best tennis at the grand slams and deliver my best at the best courts. 

    "I've said this before but this court is truly special. For me it has always been the court I dreamed of playing and winning and all my childhood dreams came true here.

    "It's an honour and pleasure to be back on Centre Court. This sport has given me everything. I owe a lot to the sport and I love it still with all my heart."

     

  • Williamson still has 'appetite' for New Zealand captaincy after series whitewash to England Williamson still has 'appetite' for New Zealand captaincy after series whitewash to England

    New Zealand captain Kane Williamson insists he still has the "appetite" to lead the Black Caps amid questions over his tenure following a 3-0 Test series whitewash against England.

    Former Black Caps bowler Simon Doull, who played 32 Tests for his country before moving into commentary, suggested he would like to see Williamson relinquish the captaincy to focus on his batting.

    That was prior to the third Test at Headingley, where England eased to their 296 target and became the first team to chase down 250 or more three times in a single series.

    Williamson scored 31 in the first innings in Leeds and 48 in the second, but has passed 50 just once in his last 10 Test innings since crafting 238 against Pakistan in January 2021 at Christchurch.

    Tom Latham, who stepped up when Williamson was absent at Trent Bridge, has been mooted as the next New Zealand skipper, but the Black Caps captain insists he is committed to the task at hand.

    "We opted for the balance of the side to go with three seamers," Williamson said.

    "We were curious to whether it would turn, but it's just one of those things. We made the decision not to play the spinner, but it wasn't the easiest to bat on at any time.

    "It would have been nice for the top four to contribute a bit more, and that's an area we want to be contributing more from.

    "I certainly love playing for this group and being their leader. It has been an interesting time and challenging, but the appetite is still there from me."

    Michael Bracewell was selected ahead of Ajaz Patel and went for 163 in just 22.3 overs across the two innings, picking up two wickets.

    While Williamson defended the decision on his spinners, he pointed to the aggressive approach of a new-look England side under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum as the difference in the series.

    "It's been an incredible series. In all three matches we had our opportunities and we were ahead of the game at times in each one but credit to England, they chose to counter-attack when they were under pressure and they did it well, especially in this match," he added.

    "It is frustrating to lose the series but there were a lot of positives. There is clearly a new theme to England's approach and they did it extremely well.

    "It was a highly competitive series, but they won those fine margins and those moments that changed the outcome of the matches."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.