The return of Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford could not have happened at a better time for Manchester United – in theory. The United midfield already boasted of some truly world-class footballers and who better to lead the charge than the Portuguese superstar who has already cemented his place in football folklore. This was the club where Ronaldo truly developed into a world-beater and a return after twelve years was hailed by many as the perfect catalyst for the side that looked somewhat unsure under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. However, we are already halfway into the season and the trademark Cristiano Ronaldo spark has only appeared in bits and parts. 

Ronaldo was handed the United captaincy for the first time since 2008 but the occasion was once again dampened by a performance that saw erratic passing and a total failure to create fruitful attacks in the opposition half. Manchester United were completely outplayed by a Wolves side who were not afraid to bombard them with constant attacks and a late Joao Moutinho goal was enough to hand United their seventh league defeat of the season. According to Footy Accumulators, Ronaldo had just one shot on target during the entire match and he completed just 28 passes. 

Cristiano Ronaldo. Credits: si.com

This has been a constant problem for Ronaldo this season as his involvement in most games has oscillated between wrecker-in-chief to merely a supporting act. A tally of 14 goals from 21 matches is no small feat but when it comes to the overall structure of the side, he has struggled to keep up with the way new manager Ralf Ragnick them to function. In a 4-2-2-2 system where fast pressing is necessary, the reluctance to track back has been a major bane for the Portuguese striker

At 36, Ronaldo is not the fastest despite his short bursts of runs. The overreliance of the team has further added to the pressure. The likes of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes have not performed according to their potential till now and the lack of a good defensive midfielder means that the team has often fallen back on Ronaldo to come up with a moment of magic.

The fact that defender Phil Jones won possession in the attacking third for Manchester United as many times as Cristiano Ronaldo, Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho, Edinson Cavani, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic combined is a glaring example of their issues upfront. 

Expectations exceeded reality

Ronaldo was brought into the team as a pure striker but with Edinson Cavani gaining the favour of the manager, it is time for Ronaldo to assume as a more creative role. In Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Manchester United has two talented full-backs but their delivery into the box has left a lot to be desired.

Crisitano Ronaldo. Credits: marca.com

The same can be said about the young attacking midfielders in the side who have found it quite difficult to penetrate opposition defences on a regular basis. In that situation, the onus falls on Ronaldo to take up the spot possibly just behind Cavani and start creating the attacks. He has performed this role for a major part of his career, and it is once again the need of the hour for him. 

The other factor that Ronaldo brings into any side is his attitude. No one can forget his passion on the sidelines after he was stretchered off during the Euro 2016 final where Portugal lifted the first international trophy in their history. This is a player who has made it a trademark to instill fear in the opponents’ hearts with his aggressive attitude and trademark celebrations.

But, this season, he has been a somewhat demurred figure who looks quite irritated with the proceedings at the club. With the season entering its second half, the time is right for United’s prodigal son to lead the Manchester United side from the front and possibly take them to the heights that his arrival promised.

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