Home Sports Cristiano Ronaldo return: Manchester United's winners and losers

Cristiano Ronaldo return: Manchester United's winners and losers

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Manchester United fans could barely believe it when confirmation came through that Cristiano Ronaldo is returning to Old Trafford after 12 years away. 

He was not a priority signing but when the opportunity to bring back their famous No 7 came up it was one too good to turn down.

Across the world it was a statement signing, even with Ronaldo aged 36, and the Portuguese’s arrival will shake-up United’s starting XI. 

Manchester United pulled off the stunning homecoming of Cristiano Ronaldo this summer

Manchester United pulled off the stunning homecoming of Cristiano Ronaldo this summer 

For some, they will benefit hugely from having Ronaldo back at United, with players like Paul Pogba likely to thrive alongside someone as talented as Ronaldo.

But there are others already on the periphery that could see his arrival extinguish their faint hopes of regular match minutes.  

With that in mind, Sportsmail looks at the winners and losers inside the Manchester United dressing room from the 36-year-old’s return… 

LOSERS 

JESSE LINGARD: The first thing to note is that the England midfield is clearly incredibly excited by Ronaldo’s arrival.

Ronaldo fever is so strong that Lingard adapted the Portuguese’s iconic celebration when he netted against Andorra on Sunday night.

But while the 28-year-old may hold the same excited emotions surrounding Ronaldo being back at Manchester United, it hardly bears good news for his playing chances.

Lingard thrived on loan at West Ham last season scoring nine goals and providing four assists in 16 appearances having arrived in January. 

Gary Neville is among those who believe Lingard, now back at Old Trafford, will play a bit-part role.

Jesse Lingard is back at Manchester United but faces a number of hurdles to make a starting XI

Jesse Lingard is back at Manchester United but faces a number of hurdles to make a starting XI

The Manchester United midfielder is excited to have Ronaldo back but it could hit his minutes

The Manchester United midfielder is excited to have Ronaldo back but it could hit his minutes

‘To go back to being a squad player again I think, for me, is disappointing,’ Neville said. 

‘I think you sometimes have to sort of fly the nest and go. I thought he’d already done that with what he did last year.’

Solskjaer has been more diplomatic and while Lingard has bags of talent there are very few openings in the team that present him with the chance to play. 

‘Of course, I have to leave players out, never mind from the starting XI but from the squad,’ Solskjaer said last month. ‘But they all have to remember and know they’re going to have to play a part if we’re going to be successful.

‘Jesse is back to his fitness, he played really well in the behind-closed-doors game on Tuesday and he’s come back bubbly and in good shape. He’s got a big part to play.’

United battling in four competitions should get him minutes but a rotational role beckons with the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho all ahead of him. 

The 28-year-old enjoyed his spell at West Ham in 2021, scoring nine goals since January

The 28-year-old enjoyed his spell at West Ham in 2021, scoring nine goals since January

ANTHONY MARTIAL: Linked with a move away in the summer with Ronaldo’s arrival set to further squeeze his starts in the attacking front three, it is a defining period for Martial and his Manchester United career.

Just seven goals last season was a real disappointment and now he could find himself limited to cameo roles off the bench.

Back in 2019 Solskjaer explained his belief that Martial could go on to be as good as Ronaldo.

‘He [Martial] does have similarities, of course,’ the Norwegian said. 

‘If he wants to be at Cristiano’s level, Anthony knows what he has to do. It’s up to him. He has the talent.’ 

Edinson Cavani edged out Martial by the end of last season as the No 1 centre forward option and with Ronaldo set to command a starting role each week, such is his impeccable conditioning, chances may well be at a premium for the Frenchman. 

DONNY VAN DE BEEK: Well, his agent isn’t too optimistic that life at Old Trafford is going to improve for the former Ajax midfielder.

The midfielder is yet to feature for Solskjaer’s side this season having started just four Premier League matches in 2020-21.

And now the arrival of Portuguese superstar Ronaldo for a second spell at Old Trafford looks likely to bump him even further down the pecking order. 

Speaking to Ziggo Sport in Holland, Van de Beek’s agent Guido Albers said: ‘Cristiano arrived on Friday which we knew was bad news for us.

Donny van de Beek's agent believes Ronaldo's return is'bad news' for the Dutch midfielder

Donny van de Beek’s agent believes Ronaldo’s return is ‘bad news’ for the Dutch midfielder

‘[Paul] Pogba plays on the left, and with Cristiano’s arrival it means another extra player in midfield with Pogba moving away from the left.

‘We had conversations with Solskjaer and the board. We took the initiative to find a club and our search ended up at Everton. We opened talks with Marcel Brands and Farhad Moshiri.

‘On Monday night [prior to deadline day] we received a call from Solskjaer and the club told us that a transfer was out of the question and that he had to report himself to training the next morning.’

Van de Beek is viewed in a different category to a Fred or a Nemanja Matic, both of which operate as holding midfielders, but given the system in which Solskjaer plays, Van de Beek is in competition with Pogba and Fernandes for places in the starting XI.

If things don’t improve with Ronaldo around then keen an eye on Albers come January. 

The Dutchman spent much of his debut season warming the bench at Manchester United

The Dutchman spent much of his debut season warming the bench at Manchester United

EDINSON CAVANI: He’s given up the No 7 shirt and also likely sacrificed a starting spot for the returning Ronaldo.

‘I wasn’t sure if it would be possible to have the number seven shirt again,’ Ronaldo said. ‘So I would like to say a huge thank you to Edi [Cavani] for this incredible gesture.’ 

The fact United have bolstered their attack with an older player may bother the 34-year-old given only two players netted more than him last season for United.

Cavani scored 17 goals and added six assists in 40 games, a figure only beaten by Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes in the Premier League last season. 

The Uruguayan was said to not feel ‘comfortable’ last season and the expectation was he would return to South America with Boca Juniors interested.

But having penned fresh terms for 2021-22 Cavani will expect gametime and he could find himself as next man up for when Ronaldo is rested or rotated. 

The Portuguese’s arrival only ramps up the pressure on Cavani to produce every time he gets an opportunity.  

Barcelona reportedly made a late enquiry over the possibility of signing striker Edinson Cavani

Barcelona reportedly made a late enquiry over the possibility of signing striker Edinson Cavani

Cavani released the No 7 shirt for Ronaldo and he could find starts hard to come by now

Cavani released the No 7 shirt for Ronaldo and he could find starts hard to come by now 

BRUNO FERNANDES: OK, hear me out on this one. Naturally he is ecstatic and excited to see his Portuguese compatriot return home.

‘Agent Fernandes’, as he called himself on Twitter, had been in dialogue with Ronaldo prior to the deal being done. 

But… Fernandes’ monopoly over free-kicks and penalties will now likely be brought into question. 

Both were on the pitch together in recent days when Ronaldo’s penalty was saved by Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu. It’s conjecture to say Fernandes would have scored it but there’s a real argument about sticking with the midfielder.

United won 11 penalties last season, scoring 10, and so they will go a big way towards a player’s final 2021-22 goal total, something both Fernandes and Ronaldo will be judged on.

Ronaldo (left) and Bruno Fernandes (right) will both want to be United's No 1 set-piece taker

Ronaldo (left) and Bruno Fernandes (right) will both want to be United’s No 1 set-piece taker

Fernandes’ record from penalties in particularly is superior since 2017 – Ronaldo missing five in that time – but whenever they appear on the pitch together for Portugal there is no doubt who is stepping up. 

On free-kicks, data would suggest Fernandes should remain as the primary taker but as Juventus fans learned time and time again, Ronaldo always stands front and centre over set plays.

Fernandes has scored five free-kicks since 2017 whereas Ronaldo has netted just one from 67 tries.

There is clearly a close bond between the two but there should be no surprise if they butt heads over free-kicks and penalties at some stage this season.  

WINNERS

PAUL POGBA: This is one that could be argued both ways. 

Pogba impressed in the opening two games playing further forward down the left but with attacking spots already bulging at the seams prior to Ronaldo’s arrival, his deployment as a deep-lying midfielder at Wolves could be a nod to how it goes for Pogba moving forward.

What Ronaldo’s arrival will do is it should ease some of the pressure for the Frenchman to carry this team to success. 

All eyes will be on Ronaldo, who will earn £385,000 a week at Old Trafford, and that in turn can allow Pogba to focus on his game – something that can only benefit all involved. 

Paul Pogba may be pushed into a deeper role but Ronaldo's finishing should help him thrive

Paul Pogba may be pushed into a deeper role but Ronaldo’s finishing should help him thrive 

Like Pogba, Ronaldo has returned to United from Juventus but this is the first time in their careers they will line up on the same side. 

Speaking to Telefoot during the international break, Pogba seems excited to have Ronaldo come in and raise the levels of United.

‘It’s always a pleasure to play with the best, it’s a plus for the players to be able to train with a great player,’ Pogba said.

‘He’s going to raise the level of the team.’ 

What Ronaldo’s clinical finishing should bring – and the attention he will attract, thus creating extra space for team-mates – is more assists for Pogba and while he is yet to sign a new deal at United, Ronaldo’s arrival, and expected success, may convince him to commit for the long-term. 

MASON GREENWOOD: On the face of it, Ronaldo’s return completely stunts the development of Greenwood. 

But what an opportunity to learn from one of the game’s greatest ever players. 

To get to train day in, day out with Ronaldo is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and he can only come out of it a better player. 

Greenwood is an ascending talent and scored the decisive goal against Wolves before the international break.

With Rashford out injured and Sancho still settling he may yet get minutes in one of the wide areas in the three behind a striker but it the striking position it is hoped he will be long term for United. 

Striker Mason Greenwood will get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to train alongside Ronaldo

Striker Mason Greenwood will get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to train alongside Ronaldo

Given his form it would be grossly unfair if he was frozen out entirely to accommodate the likes of Ronaldo and Cavani but he will have to be more adaptable alongside some older team-mates. 

Greenwood has previously played down the right and with the ability to cut inside he could still be an effective attacking option while he improves his knowledge of the centre forward position in training with Ronaldo.

Ronaldo’s return sounded the alarm for some with Greenwood’s name cropping up but the United youngster is no doubt rubbing his hands together to work with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner – even if his minutes are at risk of being slashed. 



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