Carragher Is Right - Manchester United Will Be Better Without Cristiano Ronaldo

Ralf Rangnick's appointment raises new questions about Ronaldo's role in the side
13:55, 29 Nov 2021

Carragher: "If you finish 2nd and you then sign Ronaldo at 36, you’re not going to win the League in four years. If you sign someone at 36 it’s to win right now. If you sign Varane, a four-time Champions League winner and World Cup, it's to win right now. Are they any closer to winning the league?"

Keane: "No. He’s not come back to win the league."

Carragher: "So what’s he come back for?! What’s he here for then?"

The debate that raged on Sky Sports after Manchester United's draw at Chelsea was once again about the most famous footballer on the planet. Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar had been dropped to the bench by Michael Carrick against the league leaders and it seemed as if United were a much more functional pressing unit without the 36-year-old up front. 

Given Ralf Rangnick, the newly appointed interim manager at Old Trafford, has built his entire career upon a high-intensity pressing philosophy that demands every player to push themselves to the limit physically to chase the ball down - it is difficult to see where Ronaldo fits into these plans. 

Unless he drastically changes his style of play that has seen him score a phenomenal amount of goals as a central striker over the last five years, or Rangnick tweaks his high-pressing style of play to incorporate a man who cannot work with the same intensity at the age of 36, the bench may become a familiar home for Ronaldo. Neither of those options seem particularly likely at this moment in time, with United gearing up to face Arsenal having won a point at league leaders Chelsea on Sunday. 

At Stamford Bridge, there was an obvious tactical tweak as Ronaldo sat on the bench, but there was also a change in the mentality of the players that had struggled under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. With Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho up front, United harried and pressed the Chelsea back three, which forced them into mistakes and allowed the visitors to stifle the midfield area. 

The mistake Jorginho made for Sancho’s opener typified the pressing of this new-look Red Devils’ side, as the English winger, along with Rashford, sprinted towards the Italian midfielder as he attempted to control the ball. He failed, and Sancho was through on goal to give United an improbable lead. 

It is impossible to say whether United would have scored that goal if Ronaldo had started ahead of Sancho, but we can assume the pressing wouldn’t have been quite so intense and therefore Jorginho would have had more time. 

The signing of Ronaldo came completely out of the blue from a United perspective, which does bring into question the thought process and planning that went into securing his signature. It seemed the furore around Manchester City’s interest prompted United’s former players into acting decisively, yet for all his Champions League goals, United sit eighth in the league. 

It is clear as day that Solskjaer wasn’t prepared for Ronaldo to join the club, as his characteristics as a player go against everything that the Norwegian manager had attempted to build over the last three years. In fact, this season as Kris Voakes points out, United’s league performances without Ronaldo have been impressive. They beat Leeds United 5-1 on the opening day before he signed and have beaten Newcastle, West Ham and a woeful Spurs side with him in the starting XI, but aside from that, it has been a worrying trend for United fans to consider. 

They were leading against both Everton and Chelsea until he came off the bench, lost to Aston Villa, Liverpool and Man City at home with him in the side and were humiliated at Leicester and Watford. 

There is absolutely no questioning his goalscoring ability, as he has popped up time and time again with crucial goals in the Champions League, but as Roy Keane struggled to comprehend in the studio, a functioning team is far more important that an individualistic goalscorer. 

Rangnick is unlikely to placate Ronaldo’s needs, but the likes of Mason Greenwood, Rashford and Sancho could all flourish under this forward-thinking manager. For Ronaldo, his dream homecoming has not quite been the fairytale he once imagined and Rangnick’s appointment could spell trouble for his future at the club. 

Write him off at your peril though, Cristiano Ronaldo enjoys nothing more than being told he can’t do something and then proving people wrong. 

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