The whole team hasn’t really played well enough this season. There’s been the odd good performance but generally we’ve resembled something more like the Chelsea title winning sides than the United ones. We’ve relied on our great defence for large chunks of the season rather than putting emphasis on the usual attacking flair.
In the 14 games where we went without conceding we scored 24 goals, which is fairly impressive, but still we’d expect at least two goals a game from United on average, which wasn’t the case. When you consider 10 of those goals were scored in two matches, against West Brom and Stoke, it’s even less impressive. Eight of the games were 1-0s, two of them were 0-0s, with two 3-0s against Chelsea and Fulham, as well as the high scoring results against WBA and Stoke. How very un-United!
Regardless, we ploughed through, we fought to the end and now with five games to go, we’re three points clear with a game in hand.
Given our less than impressive displays you would imagine there would be plenty of players on the receiving end of my criticism, but more often than not, I’ve singled out just one: The Best Player In The World (TM), Cristiano Ronaldo.
Last season he was kicked all over the park. Last season he was prone to going down more easily than maybe he should, although had greatly improved. Last season his game revolved around attacking, but he still made the effort to track back. Last season he made it clear when he was unhappy that a decision had gone against him, but he’d quickly dust himself off and get on with it. Last season he scored a load of goals.
This season he has been kicked all over the park. This season he has gone to ground whenever given the slightest opportunity and feigned fury when not awarded a free-kick. This season his game has revolved around attacking and until Sunderland, made no effort to track back. This season he has sat on his arse long after the referee has waved on his appeals for a foul, throwing his arms in the air and shouting at the linesman, whilst the rest of the team try and win back the possession he has lost. This season he has kicked several opponents in off the ball incidents, reducing any sympathy we could expect this country to have for him. This season he has a fit at his team mates if they don’t play the right ball to him or if he plays a ball to them which they don’t put their psychic hat on to get on the end of. This season he has scored a load of goals.
A lot of fans have been prepared to forgive him all his wrongs because he didn’t leave in the summer and because he’s been scoring goals. For me, neither of those things were enough. Given the increasing negative reaction to Ronaldo from inside the ground this season, it is clear I’m not alone. Against Villa, before Agbonlahor even put the ball in the back of the net, there were several people on their feet shouting at Ronaldo for giving away the ball so easily and making no effort to try and win it back.
But then there was a change.
Against Sunderland he came on as a sub and I had a double take when he started chasing the ball back in to our half of the field. What the fuck? Then he did it again, and again. When Sir Alex Ferguson spoke to the press after the game, informing them he’d had words with Ronaldo over his work ethic, it all became clear. Ronaldo then revealed he would take on board what the manager had said, eager to learn.
More of the same improvement against Porto, where he was Man of the Match, as well as scoring a wonder goal, his best ever.
Against Tottenham it was like watching him a year ago. Brilliant on the attack, working hard enough in defence, and eager to get on the end of everything. Two goals to his name and he wanted a third, he was hungry and desperate for it. So desperate he put the effort in to win back the ball when it was lost, chasing after the likes of Lennon and Modric back down the wings.
It was the fifth occasion this season where he’s scored two goals in a game and this was easily his best performance. All the pressure was on and his penalty was perfectly executed. His finish for United’s third was perfect. How many other players in the World would have got on the end of that and cleverly headed in to the ground to leave Gomes with no chance? Perfection.
Whilst we can look at the impact Macheda has had in his two Premiership games in April, or look forward to the timely return of Wes Brown at right-back, or celebrate Wayne Rooney’s scoring form (10 goals in his last 15 games), I think Ronaldo rediscovering his hunger is more vital than anything else that could have happened.
Welcome back Ronaldo, I missed you!