It was Ronaldo’s homecoming and he came to home to roost. A simple tap in to get his first and a drilled left foot were the first two goals for Manchester United. In between each of these, Javier Manquillo levelled for Newcastle. Bruno Fernandes reminded everyone that there was more than one Portuguese star in the team. Lingard finished off proceedings, both for the day and a lovely intricate move, involving Pogba, Van de Beek and Martial, that the Englishman was able to swivel and nestle into the net. If a script were to be written, it wouldn’t be too far off what we saw today.
Only One Place To Start
It had to be. Since the news came on that Friday, just over two weeks ago, that Ronaldo would return to the club where he first lit the fuse that has burned so brightly across the footballing world for so long. The fanfare in which the news has been received has only heightened the good feeling that United fans have been able to share given the good news in the transfer window. Ronaldo was a special type of frosting. All it needed was for the Portuguese star to do what he does best. Was it ever in any doubt?
The 12 years since he left the Theatre of Dreams, it is a different Ronaldo the crowd would see. Not in his goalscoring but more in his approach play. He would be more reliant on the service that the team gives him than he was before. His legs, as well toned as they still are, do not move with quite the same vigour as they did. But ever the worksman, an intelligent one at that, he has stylistically changed his game to mirror the efforts in which he can put in. You saw it in all its glory today. He was still able to rotate his position and such the depth of Newcastle’s deep block, the first half often saw him come outside of the defensive rearguard, either deeper or wider, to get touches of the ball. But there were flashes of the threat he brings. A wild miskewed shot on his left and then a stepover and touch before he leathered it into the side netting. What would lift the roof off the Old Trafford stands would be a simple tap in, parried off by the keeper. A hallmark of simple movement and anticipation that the Red Devils faithful feel they have been devoid of for a significant amount of years.
The second was a flowing move during the second half as the game had opened up. Pogba passed into Shaw and the English left back swept up the pitch into space that the Magpies seldom left prior but the occasion had swept them up into an ambition where they thought they could win the game. It meant Shaw had time and space to look up and see Ronaldo making the short darted run that only the elite will see and he fed it into his path. One touch and one shot, both with his left foot. Through the legs of the keeper. The crowd erupted into fever pitch. When you have a man who trades in a quite inevitable goalscoring prowess, it is hard to be down and out. The Number 7 is making the good feeling cascade down the seats of Old Trafford once again.
Basketball matches for the season
Ronaldo will be a starter no doubt. So an already stacked attack has less spaces to fight for than ever before. The debate will rage on in that regard and the manager will soon settle on a preferred quartet. The midfield however has the same debate but not because there are a number of options in there but because the lack of options, when you think about the quantity, quality and complementary aspects in there.
Today, Pogba and Matic were stationed in there and while they both helped tremendously in progressing the ball easier into the forward areas, lessening the load of the centre backs doing the bulk of the work, you could see that without the ball, Newcastle were able to transition easily and regularly through the team. Matic cannot cover the huge swathes of spaces as he done for at least one and half seasons at Chelsea. Pogba has always been unable to and his defensive qualities can leave a lot to be desired, even if the desire from him is there. The goal in which we conceded showcased it the most. The midfield was all over the place. To the extent that Shaw and Maguire stepped into those positions. Both did not cover themselves in glory. The whole team was rejigged to the point Varane was in the LB position and overloaded. Saint-Maximin was able to pass off to Manquilo, who slotted past the keeper. A midfield has to be create, both chances for the forward and better angles to create those chances. They are also supposed to protect its back line and control games so they do not become “you attack, we attack”. Without those two things, they just become the basketball matches that it became at times today.