Home » Manchester United vs Rayo Vallecano: Cristiano Ronaldo’s role

Manchester United vs Rayo Vallecano: Cristiano Ronaldo’s role

by David O'Neill


Manchester United face Rayo Vallecano today and have an opportunity to experiment with players yet to feature prominently in preseason.

The most high-profile of those players is obviously Cristiano Ronaldo.

Should he fail to get his move to a Champions League club in this window and stave off full transformation into a cringe-monster after declaring himself “King” ahead of the match, how Erik ten Hag uses the striker will be interesting for the coming season.

In his first interview as United’s new manager, Ten Hag gave a curt response when asked what Ronaldo would bring to the team: “Goals.”

At face value, this could be taken to simply be an assessment of the player’s otherworldly consistency in finding the back of the net.

However looking at his last season, it would be reasonable to expect that Ronaldo’s new boss harboured intentions of adapting his game to maximise his output.

The Portugal captain was actually playing in a lone striker role for the first time in his club career last season, and his habit of searching for ball wide and deep arguably made him far less effective as a goalscoring centre forward.

Indeed, in scoring only 18 goals, Ronaldo actually had his worst league campaign in over a decade.

In his previous teams, he has benefitted from playing alongside hard-working centre forwards with good link-up play, from Alvaro Morata and Mario Mandžukić to Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez.

His most successful goalscoring spell came with the fantastic Karim Benzema doing the centre-forward things for him, while he was deployed as a sort of roaming poacher.

Ten Hag has shown no signs of shifting to a front two and he most certainly does not have the options in the squad that would allow for such a formation change.

That means that Ronaldo (if he’s still around) will still be playing as a lone striker, but that does not mean he should go about it in the same way as last season.

In his absence, United have shown early signs of becoming a side far more comfortable in possession than they previously have been.

That could lessen the need for a centre forward to be so heavily involved in build-up play, which would allow Ronaldo to focus almost solely on getting himself into goalscoring positions, with the team now possessing the technical quality (read: Christian Eriksen) needed to find him there.

Should he remain a Red Devil, Ronaldo must be willing to change something about his game to stand a chance at being a major player in the Champions League in 2023/24, be that at Old Trafford or elsewhere.

Against Rayo Vallecano, we will see if such a will exists – if it doesn’t, Ronaldo’s last ever Champions League goal could well have already happened a November ago.

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