September 27, 2021 || 2:37 pm

Ronaldo headache United never saw coming; ‘balloon burst’ for fading giant: PL Talking Points

This weekend’s Prem’ier League fixtures threw up surp’rise result after surprise result, as Chelsea and Manchester United both suff’ered their first defeats of the season, while Live’rpool were held to a thrilling draw.

The top five tea’ms are now separated by just one poi’nt after 6 games, whi:le there is a worrying trend appea:ring at the bottom.

Here’s ever’ything we lear’ned from this week’end’s games…

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Cristiano Ronal’do is the gre’atest scorer in the world – if not football history. But his re’turn has given manager (and for’mer tea’mmate) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer some massive headaches. At 1st gla’nce, it would seem to be a good pro’blem to have: how to fit United’s most star-studded attack’ing squ’ad in a decade in a starting XI. Bu’t there’s a deeper problem – and it’s been made all too clear this’ week.

In the last 2 games – a 1-0 Cup loss to West Ham and this wee’kend’s 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa – they have taken 55 shots with’out scoring a goal. Agai’nst Vi’lla, just f’our shots were on target. Against the Hammers it was 6.

Last season, United aver’aged less than 17 crosses per PL game, the same as the seas’on before. This season, it’s up to almo’st 21 per game. In para’llel, th’e number of shots they have taken has also gone up – 13.8 shots per ga’me last season, 17.8 this se’ason. Unsurpris”ingly, their cross accuracy and shot accu’racy have slightly dippe’d. To put it simply, they are chanci’ng their hand at low-percentage plays tim’e and again.

Some of that is dow’n to the arrival of Ronaldo. The att’ack revolves aroun’d him – an’d too often, the youngst’ers who look up to him are looking to him on the field rat’her than carvi’ng out str’ong chances. The num’ber of crosses has understa’ndably ris’en as United seek to get the most of ou’t their talismanic number 7. Yes, he scored four in his first 3 games, but against Villa he was al’most completely ma’rked out of the game. Uni’ted kept pinging in crosses an’d sho’ts, but they were largely speculative. The’ir only golden scoring chan”ce of the game was Fernan’des’ late penalty attempt wh’ich he blasted well over the bar. Rona’ldo wil’l likely take over duties from the 12-yard-spot in the future.

Ronaldo’s move’ment can unsettle defences, and his sc’oring record inside the box is seco’nd-to-none. With Paul Po’gba an’d Fernandes, United has 2 stellar midfielders capable of both deliv’ering brilliant crosses and finishing the’m with well-timed late runs. Bo’mbarding the box is not nec’essarily a poor strategy. But aga’inst disciplined defences – like Villa’s – Un’ited lacked cutti’ng ed’ge and creativity to break the’m do’wn, or get into strong scorin’g oppo’rtunities. Instead, players like fullback Aaron Wan-Bissaka were left flo’ating in poor cross’es from’ relati’vely-safe positions which t’he defence comfor’tably han’dled.


The big-money sign’ing of y’oung winger Jad’on Sancho should have ignited their att’ack alongside the Portug’uese super’star.

“Old Trafford will g’ive h’im the platfor’m he nee’ds to release his untapped talent’ and perform at the highest level,” So’lskjaer said. That hasn’t hap’pened.

Sancho now has feat’ured seven times – 327 minu’tes – wit’hout a goal or assist. In the le’ague, he has taken just 2 shots. Cons’tantly moving the versatile flyer from the right to the left flank h”asn’t helped – and Wan-Biss’aka has struggled offensively as he is ‘unable to build a combination with a reg’ular right-winger.

Sancho only arriv’ed in A’ugust missing all of Uni’ted’s pre-s’eason training camps, and struggled to get up to speed early. ‘But there’s reason for hope. Last sea’son, he failed to score in his first 11 Bundesliga appearan”’ces, before finally scoring his first league goal of the season 2020-21 in early January. He went on to score 16 times in 38 games in all competitions, inclu’ding eight in 26 league appear’ances.

United have now lost 3 of their four most recent clashes, wi’th the only win coming tha’nks to a stoppage-time pen’alty save from David de Gea. Ronaldo’s arri’val changed the way United atta’ck – and not neces’sarily for the better – but the blame ‘won’t fall on him. It falls on Solskjaer, and the kniv’es are sharpening.


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