EPL

Ronaldo slots straight into Man Utd starting XI for second debut with Cavani absent

By Sports Desk September 11, 2021

Cristiano Ronaldo was handed his second Manchester United debut after he was named in their starting XI for Saturday's visit of Newcastle United.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner completed his return to the club when he arrived from Juventus two weeks ago for an initial fee of £12.9million (€15m) on a two-year deal with the option of a third.

After being granted permission to leave Portugal duty early and then serving a period of isolation, Ronaldo reported to United's training ground for the first time on Tuesday.

He began training with his new team-mates the next day and is now set to play his first Premier League game since May 2009 – the longest gap between appearances in the competition's history.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed on Friday that Ronaldo would at the very least play as a substitute, but with Edinson Cavani – who allowed the Portugal captain to take over the number seven jersey – absent, the 36-year-old starting seemed inevitable.

Ronaldo scored 118 goals in 292 games in his first spell at United, which lasted for six years before he joined Real Madrid in 2009.

Despite that return in front of goal, the Portugal captain scored just one hat-trick across that previous stint – coincidentally, that came against Saturday's opponents Newcastle in January 2008.

It is fair to say Ronaldo made a habit of trebles in the 12 years after leaving Old Trafford, plundering 44 at Real Madrid and three for Juventus – long-time rival Lionel Messi has 46 since the Sporting CP product's first club hat-trick.

Of course, Ronaldo's reliability from the penalty spot has helped his goals tally, with his 84 spot-kicks since August 2009 being 31 more than any other player (Messi, 53) across the top five European leagues.

That could impact Bruno Fernandes' numbers, given he has been United's regular taker since joining from Sporting last year, missing just one of 22 attempts.

Nevertheless, United fans will be eager to see the two Portugal team-mates link up for the first time at club level, and Fernandes will be the main danger supporting Ronaldo in attack, while the in-form Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho can provide threat from the flanks.

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    The England skipper had not experienced such a league goals drought since August 2016, and his loss of form follows a turbulent period in his career when he looked set to leave Spurs.

    Kane appeared destined for a move to Manchester City, but that transfer did not materialise as the Premier League champions could not prise him from the north London club's clutches.

    He had five goal attempts in Sunday's 3-1 derby defeat to Arsenal but could not find a way past Aaron Ramsdale.

    "He doesn't look happy," Neville said.

    Pointing to Tottenham's 3-0 defeat to Chelsea in their previous game, Neville said: "Last week was a risk, I thought, shoving him out on the left wing. He was out on the left wing last week.

    "Today I thought he did play higher, to be fair, but the balls played up to him were just long punts in the first 20 minutes.

    "Harry doesn't look himself in terms of his body language. He looks like he's still carrying over the situation from over the summer.

    "He could still have had two or three goals today and a penalty, so there's still a contribution, but he's just not himself. Neither is Son [Heung-min].

    "Son and him look like they've had their balloons burst at a party as a kid. That's what it looks like."

    Neville said Spurs have "good senior pros" in their ranks, as he sought an explanation for why their form has nosedived since starting the league campaign with three straight wins.

    Rough losses to Crystal Palace, Chelsea and now Arsenal have seen them plummet from the top of the league and into mid-table.

    Nuno Espirito Santo may have a big job on his hands in turning Spurs back into a winning side, and Neville suspects some players are pining for a coach in the mould of former boss Mauricio Pochettino.

    "Those players to me look like they want a high-pressing, Pochettino-style coach that plays out from the back and gets the centre-backs on the six-yard line, rather than one that sits behind the ball and counter-attacks," former Manchester United captain Neville said on Sky Sports.

    With the derby defeat, Nuno became the first Spurs boss to lose as many as four times in his opening 10 fixtures since Glenn Hoddle in 2001.

    Kane attempted just four passes in the first half at Emirates Stadium and was successful with only five of his 11 passes across the 90 minutes.

    He has also failed to get a goal in back-to-back games against Arsenal for the first time in his Tottenham career.

    Former Spurs captain Ledley King said of his old team-mate: "He cares, but there's no doubt he's out of shape at the moment. He's out of form. He's a big part for the club so when he's not playing well we struggle."

  • Nuno takes responsibility for Tottenham capitulation in north London derby Nuno takes responsibility for Tottenham capitulation in north London derby

    Tottenham head coach Nuno Espirito Santo took responsibility for his side's damaging 3-1 defeat to Arsenal in the north London derby.

    Emile Smith Rowe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka dismantled Spurs in a thrilling first-half display from Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

    Son Heung-min pulled back a late consolation, but Spurs have now lost their last three league games by an aggregate score of 9-1. Tottenham are only the second team in Premier League history to win their first three games of a season and then lose the next three, after Everton in 1993-94, who went on to finish 17th.

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    "I'm going to be honest. When you have a game plan, you have to make the right decisions in terms of who you want to put on the pitch to develop that game plan.

    "I take responsibility because the decisions were not right according to the game plan. I won't name individuals but the game plan was not right according to the players who were on the pitch.

    "We were not aggressive enough to control the dynamic of Arsenal in midfield. We suffered when we wanted to go in front and we allowed Arsenal to always come to us. By saying that, bad decisions."

    Nuno started with a three in midfield but took Dele Alli off at half-time. Alli completed the five passes he attempted in Arsenal's half, but only managed 24 touches in total as he failed to have a shot or create a chance, while Tanguy Ndombele was similarly ineffective going forward.

    Harry Kane struggled again, though his tally of five attempts more than doubled the total amount he had managed across his other four Premier League appearances so far this season.

    Kane was partly at fault for Arsenal's third goal, conceding possession and then failing to prevent Saka making progress in the area with an attempted slide tackle, though Spurs were aggrieved that referee Craig Pawson did not blow up for a foul on the England captain in the build-up to Aubameyang's strike.

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    Spurs have now conceded three goals in their last three league games for the first time since September 2003.

  • Arteta wants Arsenal consistency after derby day joy Arteta wants Arsenal consistency after derby day joy

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    Goals from Emile Smith Rowe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka put Arsenal in a commanding 3-0 lead at half-time.

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    Arteta added: "I'm pretty worried because it doesn't look very positive at the moment."

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