Cristiano Ronaldo can be much more than a super-sub for Manchester United this season and still has plenty to offer, according to a former Old Trafford favourite.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has started just once in the Premier League this season, also making five appearances off the bench, and he has yet to score or have an assist.

A derby at Manchester City awaits United on Sunday, and it remains to be seen whether manager Erik ten Hag considers 37-year-old Ronaldo for a starting role at the Etihad Stadium.

Last season's 24-goal top scorer for United missed the club's pre-season tour in July for personal reasons, and he has looked to be lacking in sharpness in the early weeks of competitive action.

Raimond van der Gouw, who spent six seasons at United during the Alex Ferguson era, suspects Ronaldo will come good again, suggesting it is just a question of getting the timing right in terms of elevating his involvement.

Asked if Ronaldo might be a perfect impact substitute for United this season, Van der Gouw told Stats Perform: "I will not say that. No, no, no, no.

"I mean, okay, he's not 30 any more. He's 30-plus, but he's so fit. But he missed a part of the pre-season."

Former goalkeeper Van der Gouw said those weeks before the season gets under way are hugely important, and anyone not up to speed when the competitive action gets going can struggle. He sees Ronaldo offering far more than cameos from the bench in future.

"You look for your form, you're still a little bit behind in the condition. So it's a matter of when is the right time to fit in," Van der Gouw said. "But in the meantime, you have seen the team is performing, so then you don't change so quickly a team. I think it's a matter of time of when do you put Ronaldo in, and can he deliver what he can deliver?

"And I think with his age, he's still good enough.

"You can be fit and doing your work in a gym, but you need your match fitness, and you only get that by playing games. And that's what he didn't do it in the beginning. So he's a little bit behind."

Ronaldo has played 207 minutes in the Premier League this term, taking 12 shots in that time, with just two of those going on target.

He scored his first goal of the season in the Europa League, with a penalty against Sheriff, before going away on international duty.

Even with Portugal, where he played full games against the Czech Republic and Spain, Ronaldo has not been immune to flak.

After a 1-0 defeat to Spain this week, Ronaldo's performance was heavily criticised, to the dismay of his sister, Katia Aveiro.

She said the critics were "sick, petty, soulless, stupid and forever ungrateful".

Ronaldo was also defended by Bruno Fernandes, his Portugal and United team-mate, who said: "This is a phase. When the goals start to appear, he will have more capacity and tranquillity to continue scoring many goals for our national team. We cannot forget that he is the best scorer ever."

The Ronaldo of years gone by might have hit back at detractors by producing a match-winning performance in his next game, but the bench may beckon again this weekend.

Van der Gouw has no doubt City will provide tough opposition for United.

"Well, at the moment, it's obvious City's much further [ahead] than Man United. It's quite clear," said Van der Gouw, who was for many years Peter Schmeichel's deputy.

"So in a certain way, you're hoping that it will be an interesting game. It's always a different game compared [to others]. It's not just a normal game if you play against City.

"Everybody has to be really sharp. And then we will see who's going to be the winner. That's a massive game. Massive."

Bruno Fernandes has defended Cristiano Ronaldo and believes there is "no need" for a "soap opera" around his Manchester United and Portugal team-mate following a 1-0 loss to Spain.

After an impressive 4-0 win against the Czech Republic put Portugal in pole position in Nations League Group A2, they were beaten by La Roja and missed out on a place in the Finals.

Ronaldo failed to score in a third consecutive game at international level, seeing two attempts saved by Unai Simon, and appeared extremely disappointed and frustrated at full-time.

But Fernandes came to his colleague's defence, saying: "There is no need to make great stories. Cristiano is here, he is here to help, and he will continue to help.

"Cristiano is a forward; he wants to score goals. Frustration is normal, but there was no one more frustrated than anyone else.

"We were all very frustrated – there is no need to make a soap opera around Cristiano."

Ronaldo has just one goal and one assist for club and country this season, but Fernandes added: "He has done what he has to do; the goals will appear.

"This is a phase. When the goals start to appear, he will have more capacity and tranquillity to continue scoring many goals for our national team. We cannot forget that he is the best scorer ever."

After two disappointing international tournaments, not progressing past the last 16 at either the 2018 World Cup or Euro 2020, Qatar provides an opportunity for Portugal to set things right. 

"[The Nations League] doesn't get in the way," Fernandes said. "The World Cup is a completely different competition.

"We knew what we had to do in this competition; unfortunately, we couldn't go all the way.

"The World Cup will soon be seen, so we have to focus, be at the best level in the clubs to represent the national team."

Fernando Santos had no concerns around his future as Portugal coach after his team lost 1-0 to Spain and missed out on a place at the Nations League Finals.

Spain's dramatic victory came courtesy of Alvaro Morata's goal in the 88th minute, sending La Roja to next year's tournament instead of Portugal.

Having only needed a draw to advance, the late winner was of great frustration to Santos, but he would not entertain talk around his status as coach.

Informed of criticism and asked whether poor results would affect his position, Santos shot back: "Well, that's fine. But what should I answer? It doesn't pinch [impact] me at all.

"Do you want to be more direct or is that your question?

"My contract goes until 2024. I can't be more direct than that."

On the match, Santos added: "We cannot concede a goal in the last minutes. If we have to defend, we should give everything for it.

"Anyway, the players worked hard, and we still had a good opportunity, but we didn't make the most of it." 

Spain had five shots on target to Portugal's four, but all of those came after the 71st minute, with Santos' side paying for their earlier profligacy.

"If I would like to simplify, I would say that we had several opportunities and Spain only had a few," the coach said. "So it would be a matter of efficiency: we didn't score.

"We must look at the whole game. We are all very sad. We were convinced that we would reach the Nations League Finals. We are not there, so we are obviously sad.

"We must move on and identify what needs to be improved. We must address it in order to be on top form at the World Cup."

Portugal were not helped by Cristiano Ronaldo's failure to contribute in attack.

He has now not scored in his past three appearances for Portugal, and there are questions around his ability to carry the national team without consistent game time at Manchester United.

"I am only interested in the team's performance," Santos said. "Ronaldo had three or four chances, two of them very good.

"He normally scores [in these situations], but he didn't. It's football. We normally expect him to score, but he didn't."

Head coach Luis Enrique "had the feeling that the goal was going to come" for Spain as a late Alvaro Morata strike earned victory over Portugal to reach next year's Nations League Finals.

Spain needed to win in Braga if they were to top Group A2 above Portugal, but the hosts had the better of the first-half opportunities.

However, substitutions from Luis Enrique turned the game in Spain's favour, before they found a dramatic 88th-minute winner when Morata smashed in from Nico Williams' downwards header.

Luis Enrique claims he knew his team were going to score, telling reporters: "It is a wonderful sport in which victory is the best antidote for any depression or state of sadness.

"Portugal are a top team. In the first half, I insisted a lot, perhaps too much, on having the ball, and we did. It is clear that we prefer to make the passes in the opposing half.

"The first half is necessary to show that the ball is ours; in the second half, I had the feeling that the goal was going to come.

"We repeat reaching the final four, and it is a great joy."

The important victory will no doubt stir hopes of Spain repeating their 2010 heroics, when Vicente del Bosque led the nation to their first and only World Cup crown.

The 2022 tournament in Qatar is fast approaching, and Luis Enrique faces tough decisions in picking his final squad.

"It is wonderful to train these players," he told reporters. 

"The list is not 26; there are 40 who can come to the World Cup. It is a pleasure to train players of such quality.

"The pity is that players are going to stay out [of the final squad]. It changes continuously. It will be difficult for me."

Alvaro Morata's late goal gave Spain a 1-0 victory over Portugal and snatched a place at the Nations League Finals from their hosts in Braga.

Spain needed to win to leapfrog Fernando Santos' side atop Group A2 but had looked set to be frustrated, with Portugal enjoying the better of the first-half opportunities.

However, substitutions from Luis Enrique after the break changed the game, and Nico Williams' header across goal was smashed in by Morata to steal a precious victory.

The dramatic win means Spain will join Croatia, Italy and the Netherlands at next year's tournament, with Portugal left to rue missed chances and sloppy defending in the closing stages.

 

Luis Enrique says Spain will be treating Tuesday's Nations League group decider against Portugal as if it is a World Cup quarter-final.

La Roja lock horns with the Euro 2016 champions in the Group A2 finale in Braga, with the visitors needing to win to secure their place in next year's finals.

Spain's chances of finishing at the group summit were dented following a 2-1 defeat against Switzerland on Saturday, while Portugal leapfrogged them after running out 4-0 winners against the Czech Republic.

Nevertheless, Luis Enrique remains optimistic about his nation's scenario, which he likened to preparing for a World Cup knockout tie.

"It's a final and we're thinking about it that way. It's positive to have reached matchday six with the possibility of being champions," he said at Monday's pre-match press conference.

"We put it as if it were the quarter-finals of Qatar. It's 90 minutes and it's only worth winning – not even a draw is useful.

"We have always defined [Portugal] as very talented and with an outstanding physical presence. They have already conquered very important things, and the evolution of the teams is usually measured by what they win."

Portugal boss Fernando Santos says his players cannot face any more pressure than they already weather, ahead of their Nations League crunch clash with Spain.

The Euro 2016 winners will play their neighbours in their last game in Group A2, with a two-point cushion ahead of Luis Enrique's side at the summit.

It means the winner will progress through to next year's finals, though a draw in Braga would be enough for the hosts to edge La Roja.

Ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup later this year, it presents a suitable high-pressure test for Santos and his side – but the 67-year-old says there can be no further weight upon what his squad already have to deal with.

"Three days ago, Portugal had to win the next two games because Spain would win their first," he said at Monday's pre-match news conference.

"But even a draw would have been enough to come to the final match alive. That's absolutely normal. I just try to take this pressure out of my players. If they do what we have to do, we are closer to victory.

"Do you think we can have more pressure than we have already? These players have pressure everywhere they go. They always play to win, to be champions. We always play to win, we demand it.

"We can't have more pressure than that, right? That means we know how to deal with pressure, as we have been earning positive results."

Portugal leapfrogged Spain to top spot on Saturday after the former picked up a handy 4-0 win over the Czech Republic, while the latter slumped to a 2-1 defeat against Switzerland.

Santos is nevertheless anticipating a tough challenge, regardless of result, adding: "I expect a Spain just like they always are. They don't change a thing.

"Everyone knows Spain. They've played the same way for 20 years. It's a team of possession, pressure, one that reacts well to the loss of the ball. They have a clear matrix in the way they play.

"We don't have to be worried about Spain but we have to respect them, as we respect all opponents. We have to be focused on ourselves."

Diogo Dalot insists Portugal's approach in their final Nations League Group A2 game against Spain will not be any different after rising to the top of the table.

A comfortable 4-0 victory over the Czech Republic in Prague, where the Manchester United full-back scored a brace, came alongside a surprising 2-1 defeat for Spain against Switzerland.

Those results set up a decisive match between Portugal and Spain on Tuesday in Braga, where the hosts know avoiding defeat will secure a spot in next year's Finals tournament.

Despite now finding themselves in pole position, Dalot says the outlook ahead of the game has not changed.

"Our thinking will be the same, whether Spain had won or our result [had been different]. We're going to Braga to win," he said.

"It's going to be a very complicated game and we have to do our [work] to be able to be in the next phase."

Dalot was also pleased with the overall performance from the squad, believing it to be evidence of their strength ahead of the World Cup later this year.

"The most important thing was the good game we played collectively. I think we could still have done a little better after the third goal, taking it easy and more ball," he added.

"We had some scares there that could have given them a goal, but we kept our cool. Defensively we were also very good and I think the result speaks for itself. We played a great game, and we deserved this win.

"This is the result of the work we have been doing. We have a lot of quality. This is a strong [moment] for us. The World Cup is coming, it's a competition where we always want to be."

Diogo Dalot struck twice as Portugal crushed the Czech Republic 4-0 in Prague to go top of Group A2 in the Nations League.

The Manchester United full-back opened the scoring after 33 minutes, with club-mate Bruno Fernandes doubling Portugal's lead before Patrik Schick smashed a penalty over the bar following a VAR call at the end of the first half.

Dalot scored again shortly after the break, and Diogo Jota added gloss to the scoreline late on.

The result moved Portugal above Spain in the standings with one round of games left to play.

Antonin Barak wasted the best chance for the hosts on the half-hour mark as he headed wide, and he would rue his error when Dalot broke the deadlock from close range after Rafael Leao prevented the ball from going out of play by cutting back into the middle.

A dramatic end to the opening half saw Fernandes volley home Mario Rui's cross to double Portugal's lead, before Cristiano Ronaldo was penalised for handball at the other end, the VAR intervention resulting in a penalty that Schick wasted.

Any hopes of a comeback for the Czech Republic suffered a significant dent six minutes after the restart, Dalot netting his second of the game when he curled home a low effort from outside the penalty area.

Further opportunities were few and far between, but there was time for Portugal to extend their lead further, Jota heading home following a corner in the 82nd minute.

Cristiano Ronaldo intends to continue with Portugal until Euro 2024, shutting down any notion the 2022 World Cup could be his last major international tournament.

The veteran attacker has struggled for form this season at club level with Manchester United, dropped by Erik ten Hag and mostly kept on the sidelines by a positive upturn in results.

But his place in Fernando Santos' Portugal squad has never been in doubt, with the 37-year-old leading his country in their Nations League matches with the Czech Republic and Spain this week.

Speaking at the Quinas de Ouro awards, where he was feted, Ronaldo revealed his ambitions to remain with the national set-up for another major tournament cycle, taking him through to the age of 39.

"I hope to be a part of the national team for a few more years," he stated. "I still have the motivation, and my ambition is high.

"My path here is not over. We have many quality youngsters. I will be at the World Cup, and I want to be at the European Championship, too.

"It has been a long road and I want to take the opportunity to say that the road is not over yet. You'll still have to put up with me for a little while longer!"

Ronaldo's only major honour at international level came at Euro 2016, albeit he missed most of the final victory over France following an injury.

Portugal will hope for a successful tournament in Qatar, where they are the top-seeded nation in Group H, alongside Uruguay, South Korea and Ghana.

Bruno Fernandes has refuted suggestions he and Cristiano Ronaldo cannot play together effectively, as the Manchester United duo prepare to link up for Portugal in the international break. 

Both Fernandes and Ronaldo have been named in Fernando Santos' squad for Nations League fixtures against the Czech Republic and Spain this month.

While Fernandes has been an ever-present for United at the start of their Premier League campaign, Ronaldo has not started a league game since a 4-0 defeat at Brentford last month, and is yet to find the net on the domestic front this season.

United have won four consecutive league games with Ronaldo on the bench, and the legendary forward's 2021 transfer from Juventus led to a significant drop-off in Fernandes' attacking output.

Fernandes scored 18 Premier League goals and provided 12 assists during his final full season before Ronaldo's arrival, but managed just 10 goals and six assists last term.

However, the midfielder does not believe Ronaldo's presence has inhibited him, telling the Athletic: "Most of my assists last season were for him, so I don't think [it is fair].

"I just had a poor season in terms of my own numbers. I don't think it is about Cristiano or myself.

"I don't think it is because of Cristiano, it is because I didn't do the best myself in some moments to get goals or assists.

"In the national team, I play with him and when I score, he is on the pitch. To play with Cristiano as a number 10 is actually really good because players respect Cristiano so much that it creates more space, as the opponents are afraid of him taking the ball and scoring.

"I played the last four Premier League games without Cristiano starting and I scored only one goal. So it is not because of Cristiano.

"Obviously he can be really good to play together with, for someone who gives assists, as if you give him the right ball, he will score goals."

Portugal sit one point behind Spain at the top of Nations League Group A2 ahead of their final two matches of the campaign, as the 2018-19 champions bid for a return to the competition's finals. 

Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal team-mate Rafa Silva has retired from international football having made 25 appearances for his country.

Benfica forward Silva was part of the squads that won Euro 2016 and the 2018-19 Nations League, while he was also called up for the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2020.

An impressive start to the club season, in which he has scored four goals in seven league matches, earned him a call-up for Portugal's upcoming Nations League fixtures against Czech Republic and Spain.

But the 29-year-old has instead retired from international football, stating he was calling it quits for "personal reasons" and describing it as an "honest and right decision".

Silva went on to say: "The national team will continue to bring joy to the Portuguese, from the very beginning in the League of Nations and the 2022 World Cup."

The Portuguese Football Federation added: "The FPF Board respects the decision taken by Rafa, who with us lived the two biggest achievements of the national team, Euro 2016 and the League of Nations.

"Rafa will forever be one of ours and he deserves our recognition and thanks."

Cristiano Ronaldo's difficulties to secure regular Manchester United minutes will not impact his role with Portugal at the World Cup in Qatar, says national team coach Fernando Santos.

Ronaldo reportedly sought to force a move from Old Trafford during the off-season following a tough first-term homecoming at United, who missed out on Champions League qualification.

Since then, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner – alongside club captain and England defender Harry Maguire – has found himself a peripheral figure on the bench.

Under Erik ten Hag, a new-look United side have reversed their form from last season's slump, with Ronaldo limited to second-half cameos on a regular basis.

Ronaldo started Thursday's Europa League win over Sheriff, though, netting his first goal of the season after being announced as part of Portugal's latest Nations League squad.

Santos, who also handed a recall to Atletico Madrid's Joao Felix, remains unconcerned over a lack of game-time for the 37-year-old and feels his captain will still offer plenty over the coming months.

"I have absolutely no worries about Ronaldo's lack of playing time for Manchester United," the Portugal coach said. "As with any player I have to work out what the situation is with him.

"But I don't think anyone has any doubts that Ronaldo continues to be of great importance to the national team."

Pedro Neto and Tiago Djalo were also notable inclusions, with Diogo Jota keeping his place despite injury struggles at Liverpool, while the likes of Goncalo Guedes, David Carmo and Goncalo Inacio missed out.

"I started preparing a list with 55 names on it, and even so it was not easy, so imagine what it's like having to choose 26," Santos added. "It's very difficult, fortunately, for Portugal and for me.

"What would be bad would be having to select 26 but only having 20 or so players to choose from. It's a headache, but it's a good headache."

Renato Sanches and Otavio Monteiro were omitted due to injury as Portugal prepare for the Nations League, where they sit a point behind Group A2 leaders Spain with two games left to play.

Portugal squad: Diogo Costa (Porto), Jose Sa (Wolves), Rui Patricio (Roma); Diogo Dalot (Manchester United), Joao Cancelo (Manchester City), Danilo Pereira (Paris Saint-Germain), Pepe (Porto), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), Tiago Djalo (Lille), Nuno Mendes (Paris Saint-Germain), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund); Joao Palhinha (Fulham), Ruben Neves (Wolves), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Joao Mario (Benfica), Matheus Nunes (Wolves), Vitinha (Paris Saint-Germain), William Carvalho (Real Betis); Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), Diogo Jota (Liverpool), Pedro Neto (Wolves), Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid), Rafa Silva (Benfica), Rafael Leao (Milan), Ricardo Horta (Braga).

Cristiano Ronaldo will be in peak condition for the World Cup and Portugal can "rest easy" about what he will bring at Qatar 2022, says Selecao legend Luis Figo.

Superstar forward Ronaldo has found himself out of the team at Manchester United in recent weeks, following on from a pre-season of uncertainty.

The 37-year-old reportedly wanted to depart Old Trafford just 12 months after returning in order to find a move to a club playing in the Champions League.

A move failed to materialise, though, and Ronaldo's only start this season under new boss Erik ten Hag came in the humiliating 4-0 defeat at Brentford.

That is partly explained by the fact Ronaldo missed much of United's pre-season due to personal reasons, but the Red Devils have chalked up four straight wins with the legendary forward out of the starting XI.

With a little over two months until Fernando Santos' side begin their World Cup campaign against Ghana, Portugal fans will hope their leading man is afforded more starts.

Real Madrid great Figo is confident he will be in prime form for the tournament.

Speaking at the FPF Football Talks 2022 in Lisbon, Figo said: "I have no doubt about Cristiano [Ronaldo]'s quality, commitment and professionalism. 

"I'm sure he'll be at the World Cup in the best possible [physical] condition. What will those conditions be? I don't know. 

"But without a doubt, given his quality and professionalism, as I said, Portugal can rest easy about what he can give to the Selecao."

Portugal needed to win a play-off against North Macedonia to book their spot in Qatar but, in a tournament considered wide open by most pundits, the Selecao will fancy their chances of a deep run.

Figo is also sure they can be a force to be reckoned with in Qatar.

"I think Portugal has one of the best teams in the world. But a Euro and a World Cup depend on many factors. Not only on individual and collective quality," he added.

"I hope that Portugal, after a complicated qualification phase, can show its value, that we can achieve our goals, that is to say, reach the final and win this World Cup."

During his playing days, Figo was involved in one of the most controversial transfers in football history when he swapped Barcelona for Clasico rivals Real Madrid for a then world-record fee back in July 2000.

The story of the move has been retold in the Netflix documentary 'The Figo Affair: The Transfer that Changed Football'.

Asked how he felt about the situation having relived it via the show, Figo said: "I lived it so I don't feel any different. 

"Of course, those who didn't live it, who have spoken and criticised, will have a different feeling. But my feeling is the same as 22 years ago."

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin declared European football must remain open to all clubs amid ongoing speculation concerning a breakaway Super League.

Although the majority of the Super League's founding members withdrew in the face of public and political pressure following a much-criticised launch last April, the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus remain committed to the project.

Florentino Perez, who was to be named Super League chairman, has continued to call for Europe's elite clubs to secede from UEFA, insisting the breakaway competition was "still alive" in June.

More recently, Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos backed the stance of the Blancos president by claiming: "It [the Super League] should have been in operation for a long time".

But Cerferin, speaking at the FPF Football Talks Portugal 2022, emphasised his confidence in the continental game's existing structure.

"Football, for sure, will stay open in our competition always. The essence of European football, which is by far the strongest football in the world, is that it's open," he said.

"What those people who think that only the elite play football don't understand is that even they would be much worse if they wouldn't have everyone competing. 

"Last season we saw Sheriff [Tiraspol] from Moldova winning in Madrid against Real Madrid. If my Slovenian team with a budget of two million won against Tottenham, that's the essence of European football. It's part of our culture. It's part of our history and it will never change. 

"It shouldn't change and what many people don't know is that UEFA returns in club football 93.5 per cent of all the revenues to the clubs, and altogether 97 per cent of all the revenues go back to the clubs. 

"This is the most important part of football and that's why we are as successful as we are. I absolutely insist and will insist that the dream will stay alive for everyone."

One of the clubs' major motivations for looking to break away from UEFA, besides the ability to regulate their own competition, is to arrange more money-spinning contests against other elite sides.

Despite the Super League's demise, the participants are set to get their wish when the Champions League introduces an additional four group-stage matches for each team from the 2024-25 season. 

That change has been met with fierce criticism from some quarters, with the busy nature of the football calendar already a major talking point.

While Ceferin acknowledged the challenges created by the schedule, he claimed a "balance" between player welfare and financial sustainability had been found, and pledged there were no further reforms planned. 

"The calendar is very dense. I have to say it feels close to the limit probably. The thing is that clubs have to stay sustainable," he added.

"If clubs want to be sustainable, they have to have a certain amount or number of matches. Now, the ones who complain are mainly from the big clubs who really play more than the others, but from the other point of view, they have 25 top-class players.

"So the truth here is not black and white. I think we should seriously think about the number of matches, some think that two cups are too much. That's not the jurisdiction of UEFA to decide.

"But in principle, from one point of view clubs are saying that they want matches to get revenues so they can say sustainable. From the other point of view, some are complaining about too many matches. 

"So we have to find a balance here. I think we did find it and we changed the competition post 2024. After that, I don't see any possibility of changing anything soon."

Meanwhile, Ceferin also highlighted his confidence the World Cup would make a return to Europe in 2030, backing a joint bid from Spain and Portugal. 

"I see it as a winning bid. We will do whatever we can to help the bid. It's time for Europe to host the World Cup. Both countries are passionate about football," he said.

"You feel and you smell football in Spain and Portugal. The infrastructure is great. 

"So we have some plans on how to help. I think, and I'm sure, that will have the World Cup in 2030 in Spain and Portugal."

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