Cristiano Ronaldo completed a sensational second debut for Manchester United with two goals in a 4-1 win over Newcastle. We collate the reaction and stats from his stellar return…
Ronaldo’s inspirational return
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate at Old Trafford…
For all the hype, this is the story of that boy Ronaldo and his ability with a ball. As Old Trafford revelled in his return, he cut through the noise with two goals and a match-winning turn in Manchester United’s 4-1 win over Newcastle.
They have seen better individual performances from him here, but not for a long time, and never more remarkable than this. The expectation had been almost overwhelming but Cristiano Ronaldo did what he always does and now supporters will be wondering what it means for United’s prospects.
Instantly, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are back on top, leading the way in the Premier League. With Ronaldo back in the building, back on the pitch, everything feels different.
Now, they have a reason to believe they can stay there.
A triumphant homecoming at Old Trafford
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate at Old Trafford…
Welcome home, read the flags being sold outside the ground. ‘Back where he belongs’ said the scarves worn by hundreds inside it. The Viva Ronaldo songs in The Trafford pub were providing the soundtrack outside the stadium three hours before kick-off.
This was Ronaldo, the brand, the phenomenon, his face staring down on his adoring public from above the megastore in the East Stand. They had already had to shimmy past the dozens selling unofficial merchandise, now they queued for an official memento as well.
It is tempting to be cynical at such rampant commercialism, but it would be going too far to suggest this is the driving force behind the scenes seen on Saturday. Instead, it was feeding off the energy of the Manchester United supporters. The excitement was real.
“The atmosphere around the club has been electric,” said Solskjaer. “The supporters have enjoyed the last 10 days. Loads of expectation on the team today and he has delivered.”
Ultimately, Ronaldo is not famous just for being famous. He is famous for scoring goals, 450 of them in 438 Real Madrid appearances, over 100 goals in three seasons at Juventus. It is now two in one for United second time around. Goals seem to just find him but it is not luck.
“He is still a ruthless and clinical goal scorer,” said his manager and never was that more obvious than for the opening goal. Mason Greenwood took the shot and everyone stood still. Everyone but him. “He senses the big moments,” added Solskjaer.
His second goal was more instantly recognisable, racing clear in the left channel and firing low into the net. United had a wobble as is customary these days but Ronaldo helped pull them through it and it was comfortable long before the final whistle.
For the younger supporters, unable to recall Ronaldo’s first spell at United, this was an experience they thought they would never have. For the seasoned veterans, who have witnessed the growth of this precocious talent, it was a chance to welcome him back as a legend.
Having used his programme notes to declare him the best player of all time, Solskjaer made the point afterwards that Ronaldo is a better player than when he left in 2009.
But it is not just Ronaldo who has changed, it is the landscape of English football.
When Ronaldo made his first debut here, Chelsea had yet to end their 50-year wait for the title. Manchester City hadn’t even appointed Stuart Pearce. This was before those noisy neighbours had played David James up front let alone Sergio Aguero and the rest.
His very presence at Old Trafford harks back to a Manchester United golden age. Sir Alex Ferguson up in the stands is a nod to it. Solskjaer on the touchline is a warm embrace of it. Ronaldo on the pitch – the Ronaldo – is something more passionate.
They cheered when his name was announced and cheered when he came out to warm-up. They roared when he put the ball in the net during that first training drill, howled in delight when he smashed a free-kick in off the post from almost 30 yards out.
Expectations were sky high and when the game kicked off there was a sense that most of the people in the stadium were transfixed with one man, regardless of who had the ball. The early touches were unremarkable and yet 10 minutes in there had been two half-chances.
There was one hint of his former prowess in the eleventh minute when he turned clear of one marker before bringing out the stepover in an attempt to skip away from another. The ball hit the side-netting but the hum of noise betrayed the excitement among the fans.
Of course, his skills are suited to other types of finish now, as that first goal showed, and as was demonstrated too by the sort of service that he was provided. “You are not going to use him as a battering ram, are you?” Those were Solskjaer’s words afterwards. But there were plenty of crosses flung in.
This is a team still finding its fluency, working out how to utilise the creativity of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba alongside the gifts of Greenwood and Jadon Sancho. The latter, in particular, seems to want to play more of a one-touch game than those around him.
Perhaps that is a concern for another day.
In the meantime, there is Ronaldo. At 36, he cannot provide every solution for this team but he showed once again that he can still have the final word in most arguments.
Three points down, how many to go? The answer to that question must wait. This was about the occasion and a day that Manchester United supporters did not want to end.
“We want Ronaldo,” they chanted, long after the final whistle, as the player’s new teammates lined up for post-match media duties at the side of the pitch.
But they have Ronaldo now. The boy with the ball is back. And even this 36-year-old version looks potent enough to make a difference.
The superstar returns: Ronaldo’s performance analysed
Sky Sports’ Adam Smith:
Can debuts get much better? Ronaldo produced match-topping numbers for goals, expected goals, shots, fast breaks and touches in the opposition box.
Ronaldo operated primarily in left-of-centre areas, just outside Newcastle’s box. His shots off target came from wildly acute angles and another was fired from way outside the box – while both goals came in or around the six-yard box.
As the graphic below shows, Ronaldo received the majority of his passes from Luke Shaw, Bruno Fernandes, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba, and really worked the central third in the opposition half.
Ronaldo debut in pictures
Merse: Ronaldo’s movement phenomenal
Sky Sports’ Paul Merson on Soccer Saturday:
“His movement was absolutely phenomenal. The first goal was a mistake by the goalie but there’s only one person following up – he’s the one who goes ‘he’s going to spill this’ and he taps it in.
“The second goal, Luke Shaw gets the ball… and he sprints. He didn’t sprint too many times today – it’s a great touch to take it away from [Isaac] Hayden and he hits it hard and low. The goalie will be disappointed – it goes through his legs – but his movement and awareness in seeing it – that’s what he’s there for.
“He’s not going to close full-backs down, and he played a lot of what I would call wall passes where he just came and kept it ticking over, but his movement was phenomenal.
“I said he’s not the same player – he’s not the same player, but if you put the ball in the box or you look up and find time on the ball his movement is absolutely scary. I thought [Edinson] Cavani’s was good, but his is on another planet.”
Arrival for second debut and highlights