It just had to be him, didn’t it?
After all the interviews, talk of commercial impact, shirt sales and social media frenzy, Cristiano Ronaldo cut through the hyperbole to show his true value to Manchester United with a headline-hogging brace as the Red Devils overcame a dogged Newcastle to win 4-1.
In a carnival Old Trafford atmosphere, the returning Ronaldo swept aside doubts about his waning powers with a ruthlessly efficient display of predatory finishing.
The Portuguese opened his account in first half injury time, pouncing on Newcastle keeper Freddie Woodman’s spilled save from a deflected Mason Greenwood effort to sweep the ball home and spark ecstatic scenes among the home support.
The goal came at the perfect time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side, as Steve Bruce’s resilient Magpies had largely blunted the hosts’ array of attacking talent.
Newcastle briefly threatened an upset around the hour mark, as Javier Manquillo finished a quick counter-attack with a neat finish past David de Gea.
However, any impertinent notions the away side might have had about pooping the party were dashed within six minutes of their equaliser.
This seemed destined to be Ronaldo’s day. The Portuguese icon wrested back control of the game by driving a low shot through Woodman to put the seal on a swift, incisive counter-attack.
Seeing the prodigal son celebrating once more with a rapturous Stretford End was almost enough to make his sorely-felt 12-year absence melt away.
Not to be outdone, United’s other Portuguese ace, Bruno Fernandes, stepped up to score arguably the goal of the game with a thumping strike into the top corner from 20 yards.
Jesse Lingard then added a coat of gloss to a commanding scoreline with an excellent finish to an intricate, flowing team move.
Pogba was again pivotal, dazzling the opposition defence with his footwork before releasing substitute Anthony Martial, whose clever dummy provided Lingard with the time and space to tuck neatly past Woodman.
For Manchester United fans, the most heartening aspect of all of this could be that their team played in 2nd gear but still had too much quality for the opposition.
Such is the individual excellence of United’s rolling cast of star names that, if they can keep things tight at the back, they’ll always be in with a chance of victory.
The excellent Raphael Varane will go some way towards ensuring they’re harder to beat and the imminent return of the ‘McFred‘ midfield axis should give Solskjaer’s glittering collection of attacking talent a solid foundation.
And in Cristiano Ronaldo they have the kind of player who still seems fully capable of bending any game to his own will.
After almost a decade of varying degrees of mediocrity, it appears that exciting times have arrived for Solskjaer’s rebooted and revitalised Manchester United.