Cristiano Ronaldo was labelled a "giant" by incoming Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag, who is itching to work with the Portugal great.

Veteran forward Ronaldo returned to United from Juventus on a two-year deal, with the Red Devils retaining an option to extend that by a further 12 months.

Despite scoring 18 Premier League goals in 30 top-flight appearances this term there have been rumblings Ronaldo could cut short his return at the end of a hugely underwhelming season for the club.

United are sixth heading into their final game of the campaign against Crystal Palace on Sunday, with defeat giving West Ham the chance to leapfrog them in the standings.

But Ten Hag, speaking to Dutch publication De Telegraaf, stated in no uncertain terms he is excited by the prospect of working with one of the all-time greats.

"I am looking forward to working with him," said Ten Hag. “Ronaldo is a giant, because of what he has already shown, and I think he is still very ambitious. 

"Of course I want to keep him in. He has been very important for Manchester United this year and can show great statistics."

Ten Hag has won three Eredivisie titles at Ajax and the KNVB Cup twice, as well as leading the team to the Champions League semi-finals in the 2018-19 season.

That success is something United fans will be desperate for him to emulate in Manchester, with the club's last trophy arriving in 2017.

One thing Ten Hag will have to cope with is the level of scrutiny in the UK media from former United players, with the likes of Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand particularly prominent.

"That has an impact, but it should never have an influence in the dressing room," Ten Hag added about outside opinions from former players. 

"Maybe the criticism is fiercer there. The club simply has a bigger fanbase and more reach than Ajax, because England is much bigger, the Premier League is much bigger and basically everything is much bigger.

"Compared to the Netherlands it's factor two, three, four or maybe even more. Fortunately, I've been getting more and more baggage on how to deal with certain forces."

Ten Hag also stated that he will begin work with United from Monday.

"We have agreed that I will be employed by Manchester United from 16 May," he said. "In the preparation for the season there are still a few things to be done.

"Among other things, regarding the filling of the staff and the composition of the selection. I will make my mark and that must be done extremely carefully.

"We have to talk carefully about where we all want to go and how we are going to achieve that. There were possibilities to work at clubs where it is easier, because there is a better foundation.

"But I chose United because there's something to be gained there. A lot of things need to be addressed and that's a challenge. The club and I are on the same page as far as that's concerned.

"Also about the way I want to do it. In what way? I don't want to say anything about that. I will discuss that in England."

Cristiano Ronaldo has declared Erik ten Hag must be given time and freedom to rebuild Manchester United when the Dutchman steps into the Old Trafford top job.

Much is expected of new manager Ten Hag, who will replace interim boss Ralf Rangnick at the end of the season.

The Dutchman has been a high achiever in the Netherlands with Ajax and fended off strong competition to land the United post.

Reports have claimed Mauricio Pochettino and Julen Lopetegui were also keen on joining the Red Devils, but United plumped for Ten Hag.

Veteran striker Ronaldo looks set to be a key figure when the new regime get down to work, having scored 24 goals so far for United in the first season of his second spell at the club.

The 37-year-old, who won the Premier League's Player of the Month award for April, says Ten Hag must be afforded the authority to implement whatever changes he considers necessary.

"What I know about him is he did a fantastic job for Ajax, that he's an experienced coach," Ronaldo said. "But we need to give him time.

"Things need to change the way he wants.

"I hope we have success, of course, because, if you have success, all of Manchester is going to have success as well. I wish him the best."

Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo, quoted on United's official website, said the appointment should fill everyone involved with the club with optimism.

This season has been a largely dismal one for United, who have missed out on a Champions League place and finished without a major trophy for a fifth successive campaign.

Ten Hag, by contrast, is coming off a championship-winning season in the Dutch Eredivisie.

"We are happy and excited, not only as players, but the supporters as well," Ronaldo said of 52-year-old Ten Hag's arrival.

"I wish him the best and let's believe that, next year, we are going to win trophies."

Following Wednesday's Coppa Italia final defeat to Inter, it was confirmed Juventus will finish the 2021-22 season without a trophy for the first time since 2011.

Last season under Andrea Pirlo, Juventus not winning Serie A was in itself shocking, but this season has only shown further regression.

Massimiliano Allegri returning to replace Pirlo after his single season in charge was viewed as a means to halt that slide, but Juve will not just likely finish 10 points off the Serie A title winners and without a trophy this term; the Bianconeri are set to finish with a double-digit deficit in a season where the champions will likely will not break the 85-point barrier.

How much the Turin club spend relative to the rest in Italian football must be brought into context. Granted, the financial impact of COVID-19 caused significant restructuring, but they are still the only club in Italy to have a gross annual payroll in excess of €150million and are joined by Inter as one of only two over €100m. Meanwhile, seven Juventus players make up the top 10 salaries in Serie A this season.

Given that comparatively gaudy expenditure, that represents a spectacular failure – especially in comparison to the likes of the notoriously thrifty Atalanta or this Milan project that has sought to maximise value on the pitch and cut unnecessary spending. The major issue with Juve over the past four seasons has been a dramatically diminishing return on investment, but how has it manifested on the pitch?

Juventus had this inevitable capacity to find a way to win games in Allegri's first stint, but they were still volatile. It would be misguided to look at this season in isolation when in a continuum. Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival for the 2018-19 season – which was viewed as the key signing to propel them to long-awaited Champions League glory – arguably accelerated the regression.

Real Madrid's midfield and Karim Benzema allowed Ronaldo to have a largely singular role as the end point to the team's actions in possession. At Juventus, a player who was largely a finisher and was not going to force defensive collapses between the lines by that point had to take on greater responsibility in the team's build-up. Despite the Portuguese star's stature in the game, he was effectively signed for a task on the pitch he was not capable of fulfilling.

Consider that in his last season at Madrid, Ronaldo was averaging 46.87 touches per 90, and 10.02 were in the opposition's penalty area. The next two seasons at Juventus saw a dramatic shift, where for touches per 90 he averages 54.5 and 56.26 respectively. Touches in the penalty area actually decreased, however, at 6.64 and 6.92 respectively per 90.

With Paulo Dybala as the team's attacking focal point, Miralem Pjanic had previously mitigated the deeply conservative nature of Juve's midfield, but with Ronaldo it became a bridge too far. Ronaldo might have sustained his goal involvements, but it came at the expense of the collective. The Bianconeri came no closer to winning the continental silverware he was brought to Turin to secure but, more importantly, declined domestically and were suddenly challenged for what had become a fait accompli that decade in Serie A.

Pjanic's departure at the end of 2019-20 further accelerates that regression, despite the arrivals of Arthur, Alvaro Morata, Federico Chiesa and Weston McKennie that off-season, as well as Adrien Rabiot, Mathijs de Ligt and Dejan Kulusevski the previous off-season.

Arguably, the additions of Rabiot, McKennie and Arthur have only further reinforced the rigidity of Juve's midfield over the years. Pjanic's final season saw him average 1.21 chances from open play per 90, along with 10.34 passes into the final third and 0.13 for expected assists at 92.66 touches. Not one Juventus midfielder since has been able to match all of those averages individually, and trying to replace them in an aggregate creates different requirements elsewhere.

 

Amid Dybala's increasingly marginalised status upon Ronaldo's arrival, it necessitated someone like Morata, whose fantastic movement and ability to incorporate the players around him is paired with erratic finishing in front of goal. It represents a sizeable trade-off. Still, Morata leads the Bianconeri for chances created (1.63) in open play per 90 in all competitions this season.

That provides some context for this season and Dusan Vlahovic's arrival, because he is almost the opposite to Morata – cold-blooded in front of goal, but much less flexible in build-up play and movement off the ball. Yet, while he creates fewer chances in open play (0.81) than Morata, the quality of his shots (0.13 xG per shot) is still lower than Morata's average of 0.16.

 

 

It all matters because, with the exception of Inter and Lazio, the Bianconeri still keep more of the ball than anyone else in Serie A. They both can and cannot afford for their midfield to be so palpably one-dimensional. While Juventus rank 19th across the top five leagues in Europe for touches per 90 (678.46) in all competitions, they rank 32nd for big chances created per 90 (1.56), and 50th for passes into the final third (53.02), calling into question the nature of their possession and how they actually generate their chances.

With that all in context, it can be difficult to definitively assess someone like Fabio Miretti or where he best suits in a system of play, because it is akin to developing an emotional attachment to a captor.

Yet Dybala's forthcoming departure from Turin at the end of this season is symbolic, let alone if he ends up somewhere else in Serie A.

His career trajectory over the past four years, coinciding with Juve's regression and eventual embarrassment of this season, represents how badly the club have managed squad composition and, to reference Jose Mourinho's famous quote, their Champions League dream that became an obsession. As such, they have lacked anything resembling a plan or clarity, and have been blindly led by ambition to this empty-handed season.

Cristiano Ronaldo has won the Premier League's Player of the Month award for the second time this season after an impressive April on an individual level.

United's woes this season have been well-documented, with April an especially tough month that saw them win just once in six Premier League outings.

It would have undoubtedly been an even worse spell were it not for Ronaldo's five goals across four appearances, with the five-time Ballon d'Or winner netting United's equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Chelsea on April 28 and a hat-trick to just about see off Norwich City 3-2 12 days earlier. His other goal came in a 3-1 reverse at Arsenal.

No one in the Premier League managed more non-penalty goals (five) than Ronaldo across April – those strikes came from a modest 1.8 expected goals (xG), highlighting just how clinical the 37-year-old was.

A debate around Ronaldo's suitability to United has rumbled for much of the season, with some of the opinion his apparent lack of impact both off the ball and in build-up play makes him a luxury that an underachieving side cannot afford to accommodate.

However, his performances in April altered the narrative slightly, particularly following United's confirmation of Erik ten Hag as their next permanent manager on April 21.

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick suggested Ronaldo's recent performances have shown he can be an asset for Ten Hag, with rumours regarding a potential end-of-season departure cooling.

The Player of the Month award is another vindication of Ronaldo's usefulness to United, as he joins Steven Gerrard on six such gongs over the course of his career – only Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane have claimed more.

Rafael Leao's pace, power and flair invokes memories of Brazil legend Ronaldo Nazario, while only Cristiano Ronaldo was as talented as the Milan winger aged 18 at Sporting CP.

That is according to former Sporting coach Tiago Fernandes, who worked with Leao as he came through the ranks at the Portuguese club and coached a young Ronaldo before he joined Manchester United.

Leao has become central to Stefano Pioli's plans at Milan this season as the Rossoneri seek a first Scudetto since the 2010-11 campaign, sitting two points clear of Inter with two Serie A games left to play.

The 22-year-old starred in the 3-1 comeback victory at Hellas Verona on Sunday, driving down the left flank to provide two almost identical assists for birthday boy Sandro Tonali to score.

Leao leads Milan charts for most goals (10) in the league this campaign, while only Theo Hernandez (6) boasts as many assists.

He has created 38 chances in total in the Italian top flight this season, a tally that only Hernandez (49) and Tonali (42) can better.

Fernandes, speaking to Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb, heaped praise on Leao as he drew comparisons between the forward and Brazil great Ronaldo.

"Leao has the power of Ronaldo, he has the talent to solve matches on his own," said Fernandes, who worked at Sporting between 2011 and 2018.

"He reminds me of the 'Phenomenon' [Ronaldo] with speed, technique and explosiveness in decisive moments, qualities that this season have emerged every game to drag Milan towards great results."

Fernandes reflected on his memories of developing Leao when he was at Sporting's academy, with Portugal compatriot Ronaldo the only other youth player to display so much potential.

"We are talking about a very special guy for me, I'm so happy with what he's doing," he added on the Milan star. "I met him when he was just 12-13 years old, coaching him in almost all the youth teams of Sporting until his first team debut at 18.

"I can assure you that only Cristiano Ronaldo in Lisbon had the same talent as him at that age. It is very exciting. It repays the many hours of work spent together on the pitch at Sporting.

"I am proud that he has landed in a great club like the Rossoneri, he is doing very well. I want him to win the Scudetto, now there are only two games left to finish the job."

As for the future of Leao, Fernandes believes he could play for any of Europe's elite given the qualities he possesses.

"Rafael has the talent to play in the best clubs in the world, from Real Madrid to Barcelona," Fernandes added. "I am convinced that he has an incredible career ahead of him."

Manchester United supporters will not forget the damaging impact some Red Devils players have had this campaign, while Jesse Lingard did not have a "god-given right" to an Old Trafford send-off.

That is according to United great Gary Neville, who referenced legendary captains of the club, Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson, not being given special treatment in their final games for the club.

Lingard was not in the squad for the final home game of the season against Brentford last Monday, his last chance to feature at Old Trafford with his contract set to expire at the end of the campaign.

Louie Scott, Lingard's brother, subsequently took to Instagram to take aim at United, venting his anger how the England international could spend 20 years at the club without being offered a farewell.

Neville – speaking on The Gary Neville Podcast – labelled the situation as "nonsense" as he suggested Lingard did not merit a send-off.

"There was a lot of nonsense spoken about Lingard. He's been at the club a long time and done a good job," he said.

"But I've seen Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce not play in their last games for the club and not get a send-off in cup finals.

"They were both great captains and one of them probably is the greatest captain Manchester United have ever had. They didn't get the send-off they wanted so I'm not sure why Lingard deserved it.

"I was thrown away in West Brom in a toilet – sometimes it just doesn't work out, Jesse!

"To feel like you've a god-given right to get some minutes on the pitch based on how they played. Not one of them, other than David de Gea and Cristiano Ronaldo, can complain about what will happen to them this summer."

Lingard was again not present as Brighton and Hove Albion thumped United 4-0 on Saturday, the Red Devils have now conceded more goals (56) than in any previous Premier League campaign.

The result represented a new low in a dire season for United, who will also set their lowest-ever Premier League points tally, sitting on 58 – six fewer than their 2013-14 mark with only one game to play.

Bruno Fernandes accepted the assessment from United supporters that the players "were not fit to wear the shirt", while interim manager Ralf Rangnick apologised for the humiliation at the Amex Stadium.

Neville believes he has never seen the United fans turn on their own players as they did on the south coast, which he suggests shows how bad the performance was.

"It's been a shocking few months. I can't wait for the season to end and to stop talking about them," he added. 

"I was delighted not to be on the Brighton game before it, during it and after it. I can't watch them because it doesn't represent anything that a football club should be, let alone Manchester United.

"The players are only damaging themselves to a point where the fans won't forget. They were singing 'you're not fit to wear the shirt" – I have never, ever, heard United fans resort to that chant. That's a chant you would hear at QPR a few years ago or Sunderland when the fans were walking out.

"I have never known a United fanbase turn on a team like this one. It's now really clear the players have thrown the towel in. They really have. It's been a disgrace for a couple of months. It's embarrassing.

"[Incoming manager Erik] ten Hag has got a massive job to do."

Manchester United great David Beckham acknowledged change is required at Old Trafford, but hopes Cristiano Ronaldo will remain part of the Red Devils' future plans.

Ralf Rangnick's United delivered an abject showing in a 4-0 loss at Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday, meaning the Red Devils have conceded more goals (56) than in any previous Premier League campaign.

The result represented a new low in a dire season for United, who will also set their lowest-ever Premier League points tally, sitting on 58 – six fewer than their 2013-14 mark with only one game to play.

Ajax coach Erik ten Hag will replace Rangnick at the end of the season, but the Dutchman will be tasked with a sizeable rebuilding job, with numerous players out of contract and several signings required.

Paul Pogba is reportedly a target for neighbours Manchester City when his contract expires in June, while the future of Ronaldo remains under scrutiny as debates continue around the impact of the Portugal forward.

Ronaldo has scored nine of United's last 13 league goals across 11 matches, taking his tally to a club-leading 18 in the Premier League this campaign.

However, questions persist as to the influence the former Real Madrid man has on United's pressing. Nevertheless, Beckham wants Ronaldo to feature as an integral part of Ten Hag's plans next term.

"Obviously Cristiano is one of the best players over the last 15 years, with Leo [Messi]," Beckham told Sky Sports while attending the Miami Grand Prix.

"To see him stay on, hopefully at United, is important for the fans. It's important to him – we all know how much Man United means to him. He's still doing what he does best, scoring goals. That's what Cristiano does.

"To be doing what he's doing at his age is really incredible, so hopefully it continues for another year or two."

Beckham, who won six Premier League titles and a Champions League at United, also knows significant change is required to transform his former side into a competitive force again.

"I think there are changes to be made and changes that are happening, we've seen that," Beckham said.

"It's been a tough end to the season. But it is the end of the season, I'm sure a lot of the fans are thankful of that because it's been a tough one – full of ups and downs.

"The players have done what they can do best, so has the manager. I turned up at the stadium a few months back and every seat was filled so the fans still believe, they support, they turn up for the team.

"It's what United fans do. There's not many teams to have gone through what they've gone through in the last few years and still be filling out their stadium. There will be changes."

Beckham's former team-mate Peter Schmeichel, who made 292 league appearances for United and was a part of the famous treble-winning 1999 side, believes Ten Hag's arrival offers the Red Devils the perfect opportunity to change.

"It's not nice to watch," Schmeichel said before the Formula One event. "It's difficult to understand but also to put a finger on exactly what is wrong.

"We've been struggling since Alex [Ferguson] left the club. We've been spending a lot of money and we've got somewhere, but not far enough.

"With Erik ten Hag coming in now, it is an opportunity for change and I think this is what we want – maybe modernise the club a bit, restructure the club. That is what I'm looking forward to."

Erik ten Hag says questions about the future of Cristiano Ronaldo and other Manchester United stars are "for the future" as he focuses on attempting to see Ajax over the line in the Eredivisie title race.

It was confirmed last month Ten Hag will be the replacement for interim boss Ralf Rangnick from next season.

The long-term future of Portugal superstar Ronaldo, who signed on for a second spell at Old Trafford from Juventus back in August, has been shrouded in doubt despite the fact he has another year on his contract, with an option to extend for a third season, and has contributed 18 Premier League goals for a United side that has badly underperformed this season.

Reports in the British media suggested Dutchman Ten Hag wants Ronaldo to be a part of his plans next term, but when asked about the prospect of working with the 37-year-old at a news conference previewing Ajax's clash with AZ, he kept his cards pressed firmly to his chest.

"They are questions for the future and not in this moment," he said.

"I want to answer questions about Ajax, we are in an important race, and an important week. I want to focus on Ajax and not on Manchester United."

There have been rumours Ten Hag could look to take some of his Ajax squad with him to Old Trafford, with Sebastien Haller, Antony, and Jurrien Timber among those linked with a switch.

Ten Hag denied suggestions any deals are in place, though.

"No, there are no agreements about that," he added. "I now have very good players, but it's not an issue at all."

Erik ten Hag may be a "perfect match" for Manchester United, according to former Ajax defender Joel Veltman.

Ten Hag will leave his role as Ajax head coach to take over from interim United manager Ralf Rangnick at the end of the season.

The Dutchman faces a significant rebuilding job, with United only sixth in the Premier League and set to miss out on Champions League football after falling short of expectations again this season, and having not won a trophy in five years.

However, Veltman – who moved from Ajax to Brighton and Hove Albion in 2020 – is optimistic for the Red Devils, having played under Ten Hag in the Eredivisie and believing his appointment could be "the most important thing" the club has done.

"I think it's a good choice only because he's tactically really good, and I think that's the most important thing that they need right now," Veltman said to Sky Sports.

"They have the major players, every player showed already they are amazing and can perform well in this league at the highest level, so they just need a gaffer who is like, 'Guys, you have to do this, this and this.' He needs time of course, but I think he's probably the perfect match.

"Hopefully he will make a team of them. Like OK if you go there, I will go here. Like a harmonica they call it in Holland so it's like not loose ends any more, so hopefully he will do that next season."

Veltman is set to face United on Saturday as Brighton host the Manchester club in the Premier League, and did add a word of warning that they should not expect an immediate rise under his former boss.

"He came from Ajax, next season to United, so he did it step by step, and he is still learning," said the 30-year-old.

"You are still learning every game, but he is still learning as well I think. Hopefully he will get the time, and he can get to show the players, directors, everybody and the fans that he is the guy and of course he needs results.

"As a gaffer you need results and hopefully they will come to him, but I think it will be fine actually."

Cristiano Ronaldo has denied saying "I'm not finished" following Manchester United's 3-0 Premier League win over Brentford.

The Portugal international scored a second-half penalty as United saw off the Bees at Old Trafford on Monday and, after the game, reports suggested he made the comment into a television camera during the lap of honour to mark the Red Devils' final home game of the season.

However, Ronaldo has rebuffed those claims on social media.

A United fan account on Instagram posted about the 37-year-old's alleged comment, to which the player himself replied directly, writing: "I didn't say that."

It was claimed by some who thought Ronaldo had made the comment that the Portugal great was making reference to the fact his future at United has been shrouded in doubt.

Ronaldo still has a year remaining on his deal with the Red Devils, with the club having the option to extend it by a further 12 months.

He has been one of the few success stories in what has been a season to forget for United, scoring 24 goals in 37 appearances in all competitions since returning from Juventus last year.

There has been increased speculation as to whether the former Real Madrid man will be staying with United next season, with new manager Erik ten Hag arriving at the end of this campaign to try and return the club to their former glories.

Raphael Varane pledged Manchester United will improve on their disappointing season in a new era under Erik ten Hag.

Varane scored his first Red Devils goal in a 3-0 Premier League win over Brentford on Monday, but has endured a largely frustrating first season in England following his move from Real Madrid.

The 29-year-old has made 28 appearances in all competitions this season, 25 of them starts, but has been involved in just six clean sheets with United looking certain to miss out on Champions League qualification ahead of the imminent arrival of new boss Ten Hag

United have gone five years without winning a major trophy, but Varane, who featured as Madrid were humbled 4-1 by Ten Hag's Ajax team in the Champions League at the Bernabeu in March 2019, is expecting a better showing next term.

"Personally, it's been an amazing experience, the feeling of being a player at Manchester United is something special," the France centre-back told MUTV of his first campaign with the club.

"I'm always positive, I think the next season will be better.

"This season was something irregular, we will work to be ready to win trophies and do our best over the next few months."

The signing of the 2018 World Cup winner was announced on the opening day of the Premier League season, and Varane predicted he would benefit from having a full pre-season under his belt in the 2022-23 campaign.

"I hope to do a full pre-season, to be fit to help the team as much as possible. I want to do my best for this club and the fans," he added.

Varane's team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo has scored nine of United's last 12 Premier League goals after netting the team's second against the Bees, and the defender was keen to hail the 37-year-old forward.

"It's fantastic, he's a great professional, and I think his talent is amazing, if he is on the pitch he will score goals, it's crazy," Varane added.

"Even with his age, he has the hunger and with his talent he can help the team."

Cristiano Ronaldo will still be at Manchester United next season "as far as I know", says outgoing interim manager Ralf Rangnick.

Big changes are anticipated at Old Trafford in the offseason as new boss Erik ten Hag replaces Rangnick, who is taking on a dual role as United consultant and Austria coach.

Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata and Edinson Cavani all made their final home appearances as United players in Monday's 3-0 defeat of Brentford.

And there has also been widespread speculation around Ronaldo and how he will fare under Ten Hag – or whether he could even move on a year after his return to the club.

But Ronaldo has scored 18 goals in just 29 Premier League games this season, and Rangnick does not foresee United's number seven leaving.

Speaking to Stadium Astro after the Brentford game, Rangnick said of Ronaldo's response to the crowd at full-time: "I don't think why it should be a wave of goodbye.

"He has another year of contract, and as far as I know, he will be here next season again."

Meanwhile, Ronaldo posted on his Instagram page: "Once again, great support from the stands.

"Let's take this opportunity of our last game of the season at Old Trafford to thank our amazing supporters, who endured a difficult season by our side and never abandoned us.

"Thanks, guys. Your support means the world to us and our goal is to become better everyday, so that we can achieve what we all want: glory for Man. United!"

Along with veterans Matic, Mata and Cavani, Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard are set to depart United, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been linked with a return to Crystal Palace.

Manchester United have "bigger problems" than Cristiano Ronaldo and there is "no logic" in selling the superstar forward, says Red Devils legend Roy Keane.

Ronaldo was named man of the match as United secured a 3-0 win over Brentford in their final home match of the Premier League season on Monday.

The Portugal great scored a second-half penalty at Old Trafford to take his Premier League account for the campaign to 18 – a tally bettered by only Mohamed Salah (23) and Son Heung-min (19).

Despite his excellent return in front of goal since rejoining the club from Juventus, many doubted whether Ronaldo could fit the high-pressing style preferred by interim boss Ralf Rangnick and if he would suit the methods of incoming boss Erik ten Hag.

Throw in the fact Ronaldo is now 37, there is a school of thought among some pundits that United should look to move on their star man and bring in younger forwards.

Former United captain Keane does not subscribe to such a notion, though, suggesting instead the club need to invest in other strikers to complement him.

Speaking on Monday Night Football for Sky Sports, Keane said: "It [Ronaldo's signing] was a short-term fix, for the fans, for the share price. But he has still scored the goals.

"Manchester United have bigger problems than Cristiano Ronaldo.

"I just think with the goals that he has got, his performances, warrants staying at the club. But Manchester United have to get players around him, they have to get other strikers in, there has to be competition for places.

"If the leading goalscorer, the man you are depending on, is 37 years of age then that is certainly not good but I would certainly be holding onto Ronaldo.

"There might be a conversation that needs to be had about the way you are going to play or that you are not going to be playing week in and week out. But why would you get rid of a player who scores that many goals? I don't see the logic in it."

However, Keane did accept Ronaldo must be more "mature" when it comes to acknowledging his advancing years means he will not always be a regular starter.

"I think a top manager will come in and have that conversation with him and cut that rubbish out, like at Brentford when he is shaking his head 15 minutes after coming off. That is where Ronaldo has to be more mature and be a better leader," Keane added.

"Of course you are disappointed when you come off but don't keep it up for one or two days, that is where you have to sort that maturity out.

"Even Ronaldo has to look at the bigger picture.

"And when you do have that conversation as a top manager, make it plain to him that won't be tolerated, if he is not buying into that then you do say, 'No, you're not going to be part of my plans'.

"If he is thinking he has to play every minute of every game, that is rubbish at his age anyway."

Ronaldo's team-mate Marcus Rashford is another whose long-term future at Old Trafford is shrouded in doubt.

The England forward has just four Premier League goals to his name this term and has never registered fewer than five in a campaign.

With United all but certain to miss out on Champions League football next season, there are rumours Rashford may be among those to be shipped out of Old Trafford ahead of what is likely to be a major rebuild under Ten Hag.

Having been left out in favour of Anthony Elanga and Juan Mata against Brentford, Keane questioned if Rashford still has the "hunger" to succeed at Old Trafford.

"Whether it's short on confidence, we've seen his quality before but we've not seen it for a year or two," said Keane.

"I think he's taken his eye off the ball, whatever [it is] with his off-the-field stuff. Rashford has been around for a few years now, he's got that experience and played international football.

"But it doesn't look like he's matured enough. We've seen a few games recently, when he was playing at Liverpool through the middle, I said he was playing like a child.

"It's as if he's not learnt about the game. He's drifting. He's lost the hunger. These young players get a lot of money and good luck to them, but I think he's lost the eye of the tiger and he's struggling to get it back.

"Wherever Man United want to go, Marcus is being left behind. He's left out again tonight and he must be sitting on the bench going 'where has it all gone wrong for me?'. He can get it back, he's shown it before, but sometimes when you do lose it, it is hard to get it back.

"He's got to get the hunger back into his game and make the runs like we've seen tonight from Elanga. Rashford has lost that bit of hunger, which is huge for a player. He is a talent but we're not seeing it."

Manchester United cruised to a 3-0 Premier League victory over Brentford on Monday in interim manager Ralf Rangnick's final home game in charge.

Rangnick, who will be replaced by Erik ten Hag at the end of the season, saw his side take the lead inside nine minutes through Bruno Fernandes' 50th goal for the club.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a first-half strike ruled out but converted from the penalty spot shortly after the hour mark and Raphael Varane forced in a third for the Red Devils.

United are back to within five points of fourth-placed Arsenal and three behind Tottenham in fifth, though they have played two games more than both sides.

Brentford were given an early let-off when Ronaldo lost his footing with only David Raya to beat, but the hosts did not have to wait much longer for their opener.

Anthony Elanga kept the ball in play and picked out Fernandes with the cutback for the midfielder to calmly steer home as he reached double figures for league goals this term.

Ronaldo thought he had added a second for United just before half-time, only for VAR to adjudge that the forward was marginally offside when converting Juan Mata's pass.

Brentford had brief spells on top, with Christian Eriksen testing David de Gea from long range, but Ronaldo killed off the game from the spot after being barged over by Rico Henry.

Varane rounded off the scoring 18 minutes from time with a shot that deflected past Raya to put some more shine on just a third win for his side since February.

 

Real Madrid and Villarreal have it all to do when they host Manchester City and Liverpool respectively in the second legs of their Champions League semi-final ties in midweek.

Fresh off the back of winning a second LaLiga title in three seasons, Madrid are aiming to overturn a 4-3 deficit against City following last week's thrilling first leg in Manchester.

That was the joint-highest scoring semi-final first leg in the competition's history, along with Liverpool 5-2 Roma in 2017-18, and more drama awaits in the Spanish capital.

Villarreal face an even bigger task, meanwhile, as they trail Liverpool 2-0 through an unfortunate Pervis Estupinan own goal and a Sadio Mane strike at Anfield.

However, only once before have the Reds won both legs of a knockout stage tie against Spanish opposition in the Champions League or its former guise as the European Cup.

So will it be an all-English final in Paris on May 28, or can the LaLiga pair turn things around on home turf?

Ahead of the second legs, Stats Perform digs into some of the best Opta numbers around the two semi-final ties.


Villarreal v Liverpool

To put the size of Villarreal's task into some perspective, only once before – Liverpool versus Barcelona in 2019 – has a team overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit at this stage of the Champions League.

Villarreal are unbeaten at home in Champions League knockout ties, albeit having won just two of their seven such games. The bad news, though, is that across those seven matches, neither side has managed to score more than once on any occasion.

If they are to have any hope of advancing then Unai Emery's men need to display far more attacking impetus than was on show last week, having attempted only one shot and failed to hit the target at Anfield. The last team to fail to record a shot on target across two legs of a Champions League semi-final was Deportivo de La Coruna in 2003-04, against Jose Mourinho's Porto.

Should Liverpool see the job through, they will become only the fourth side to reach the final of the European Cup/ Champions League on 10 or more occasions after Real Madrid (16), Bayern Munich and Milan (both 11), with their current tally of nine the most of any English side.

Jurgen Klopp's side have been formidable on the road in Europe this season, scoring 15 goals and conceding five across their five away Champions League matches, all of which have ended in victory. Should they win on Tuesday, they will boast the longest 100 per cent away record by any team in a single European Cup or Champions League campaign.

After netting in the first leg it is likely that Mane will again be selected in Liverpool's star-studded front three. The Senegal international has scored 14 knockout-stage goals for the Reds in the Champions League, leaving him one short of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard's record for the most for an English club.

 


Real Madrid v Manchester City

The omens are good for City as they have progressed from nine of their previous 10 knockout ties in the Champions League after winning the first leg, the only exception being against Monaco at the last-16 stage in 2016-17 after squandering a 5-3 advantage to lose 6-6 on away goals.

Madrid have been eliminated from all five previous Champions League semi-finals in which they have lost the first leg, meanwhile, though they have advanced from two of their past three knockout ties when losing the first leg – against Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 quarter-finals and versus Paris Saint-Germain in this season's last 16.

Los Blancos, the competition's most successful side, have lost their past two Champions League games, though only once before have they lost three on the spin. Head coach Carlo Ancelotti, incidentally, has never lost three in a row with this his 178th match.

A draw would be enough to see City through, but they have won their last three matches against Madrid in the Champions League and could become the third side to win four in a row against them in UEFA's showpiece competition, the only previous sides to have done so being Ajax (between 1973 and 1995) and Bayern Munich (between 2000 and 2002).

City boss Pep Guardiola has had his fair share of battles with Madrid down the years, not least in the Champions League. The Catalan coach has won four matches against Los Blancos in the competition – only Ottmar Hitzfeld (seven) has won more – with half of those wins coming at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Karim Benzema has rescued Madrid a number of times in Europe this season, the Frenchman having netted nine times in the knockout stage alone. Only former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (10) has ever scored more in a single season, while Benzema could become the fourth player to score in both legs of the quarter-finals and semi-finals in a single season after Fernando Morientes (2003-04), Neymar (2014-15) and Edin Dzeko (2017-18). 

While Benzema has rightly received plenty of plaudits, strike partner Vinicius Junior has himself played a huge part in Madrid's charge for a record-extending 14th European Cup. The 28 open-play chances created by the Brazil international is the most of any player in the Champions League since Dusan Tadic (36) in 2018-19.

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