Ronaldo poised to make second Man Utd debut
At the time of my last Manchester United entry on 10 August, very few if any United insiders could envisage the homecoming of Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford happening inside three weeks from then.
In his first exclusive interview after rejoining Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo told MUTV that he was “very happy to be back home after 12 years”.
After scooping the Golden Boot at the European Championships during the off-season, and now in the 20th season of his professional career, the Portuguese phenomenon suggested he still has plenty fuel left in the tank and that he has returned to the club with the aim of winning silverware.
The 5-time Ballon d’Or winner noted he is fully available and the manager can depend on his former fellow Red.
Ronaldo and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were club team-mates from 2003-07 and together celebrated the 2004 FA Cup and 2006/07 Premier League successes under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Ronaldo also reunites with former team-mate and current assistant manager Michael Carrick, as well as technical director Darren Fletcher whom Ronaldo met with upon arrival at Manchester Airport last week.
Ronaldo and Carrick were both in Ferguson's starting XI in the UCL Final 13 years ago on a magical night in Moscow, with Fletcher an unused substitute.
Last month Ronaldo seemed on the brink of joining crosstown rivals Man City before Sir Alex swiftly intervened and induced the 36-year-old to pursue a second stint in the red half of Manchester.
Cristiano has inherited his sacrosanct no.7 shirt as Edinson Cavani was re-assigned the #21 jersey, which ‘El Matador’ also dons for his native Uruguay.
During the recent international break Ronaldo scored two last-gasp headers in Portugal's 2022 World Cup qualifier versus the Republic of Ireland, to gift the Seleção a dramatic 2-1 victory.
In doing so the Portugal skipper netted his 110th and 111th goals for national team to become the all-time record holder for most international goals in history.
Ronaldo accumulated a booking for his second goal celebration, ruling him out of Portugal’s meeting with Azerbaijan.
Ronaldo subsequently withdrew from the Portuguese camp prematurely and made a B-line for Manchester ahead of his highly-anticipated homecoming.
CR7 is poised to make his debut this weekend versus Newcastle – the same team against whom Ronaldo bagged his first and only United hat-trick to date, in January 2008.
In the manager's press conference earlier today, Solskjaer hinted Ronaldo is in contention to feature during the Magpies' visit to a packed Theatre of Dreams on Saturday afternoon.
Upon returning to England, Ronaldo has 84 goals and 45 assists to his name in 196 Premier League outings, while his stupendous goal-scoring record in the UEFA Champions League has seen CR7 net 134 goals in 88 appearances.
Following Ronaldo’s move to Real Madrid in July 2009, United have twice won the Premier League and lifted the FA Cup and Europa League once each. On the other hand, since leaving Old Trafford Ronaldo has celebrated four league titles (twice each with Madrid and Juventus) in addition to four Champions League crowns and four Ballon d'Or awards.
The pressure is on Solskjaer to deliver silverware this season and his current squad is far too talented and well-rounded to not challenge in every competition United partake in.
The boss has a minimum of five world-class players at his disposal in Ronaldo, Cavani, Pogba, Fernandes & Varane, with a handful others who are borderline exquisite.
On paper United certainly have adequate strength in depth although it is down to Solskjaer to harness his squad effectively. The club is four years into its worst trophy drought since 1985-1990, which ended with Alex Ferguson hoisting a first honour after three full seasons in charge of the Red Devils.
Solskjaer's side get their European campaign underway in the coming week as they travel to Switzerland to meet BSC Young Boys in Bern. The teams‘ only prior meetings came in the 2018/19 UCL group stage – United won home and away.
Man Utd and Villarreal have twice before been grouped together in the Champions League, in 2005 & 2008. All four previous group encounters ended goalless and in their most recent rendezvous with the Yellow Submarine, Solskjaer's troops were pipped to the Europa League title by Unai Emery’s men.
United‘s third and final Group F opposition are free-scoring Italian side Atalanta who scored the most goals in Serie A last term, netting 90 goals in 38 games.
Upon returning from Switzerland next week, Solskjaer's side prepare to face David Moyes' West Ham twice in four days; first a visit to the London Stadium on the weekend before welcoming the Hammers to Old Trafford in the League Cup on 22 September.
Later this month United host Aston Villa in the league before Villarreal pay a visit to the Theatre of Dreams to see out September.
Mason Greenwood scored in all of the club's opening three league fixtures with his contributions essentially winning 4 points for Man Utd away at Southampton and Wolves, as well as earning himself United's August Player of the Month award.
Greenwood now sits on 32 goals – the third-most by a teenager in Man Utd colours – and he turns 20 at the beginning of next month, giving the prodigious forward a maximum of six matches to close in on the respective tallies of George Best (37) and Norman Whiteside (39).
Bruno Fernandes bagged his first hat-trick for Man Utd in the Reds' season-opener with Leeds, and to date has 47 goal contributions in 54 Premier League games – averaging a goal or assist every 97 minutes. The Portuguese playmaker celebrated his 27th birthday this week whilst on international duty with Portugal.
Also getting his season off to a flyer was Paul Pogba, notching four assists vs Leeds and another in the 1-1 stalemate at St Mary's. The arrivals of Sancho, Pogba's countryman Varane, and 5-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo may prove pivotal in both the club ending its trophy duck and ultimately enticing Pogba to extend his stay in the M16.
With regards to incomings this summer Man Utd endured a sumptuous transfer window, both in terms of quality and value for money. In addition to Tom Heaton's return on a free, the club invested £125million combined acquiring Raphaël Varane, Jadon Sancho and Ronaldo.
Despite not attaining a new defensive midfielder this was inextricably United's best summer spree since 2007.
United’s only senior departure came at the closing stages of the window as Daniel James made the switch to Leeds.
Despite making profit on the £15M spent on James two years ago, a major cause for concern in the £25M received for the Welsh winger being the fourth-highest sale in club history – only Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku and Ángel di María were sold for more.
Testament to United‘s shocking track record in offloading players, Andreas Pereira sealed a fourth loan move away from Manchester since 2016 as he joined Brazilian club Flamengo.
Moreover Phil Jones has been deemed unsellable and is Solskjaer's fifth-choice centre-half.
Jones last appeared in a competitive fixture 20 months ago against Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup 3rd Round, and reportedly declined to vacate his #4 shirt in favour of World Cup winner Varane.
Pereira and Jones were both on the receiving end of bumper 4-year contracts in 2019.