Finally, after a seemingly never ending international break, Manchester United were back in front of a packed Old Trafford.
Saturday, September 11, 2021 will long be remembered as the homecoming of Cristiano Ronaldo. The hype around a Premier League clash against Newcastle was one like never seen before. After 12 long years, Ronaldo’s and United’s paths crossed once again. And with all eyes — affectionate and neutral — firmly set on the Theater of Dreams, the best entertainer that football has ever seen delivered. The Magpies were put to the sword, 4-1.
Reclaiming the famous No. 7 shirt, Ronaldo’s emergence from the tunnel onto the hallowed turf felt like he had never left. It just felt so right. The Portuguese was welcomed with a rousing ovation and the atmosphere was absolutely palpable. It was never in doubt that he would start. And it should have never been doubted that he’d come up with the goods.
Absurdly, many pundits tried their best to find negatives in United re-signing the 36-year-old. ‘He’s not the same player he was when he left’, ‘He’s too old for the Premier League’, ‘Will he be able to handle the pressure?’ Will he ever… In his preferred high stakes environment, Ronaldo gelled seamlessly with his new teammates and in the end, United put on a show — sending another early season statement to the rest of the pack. The first act of the show was a brace.
Story of the game
There is only one story and that is Cristiano. Red just looks right on him. Strutting his stuff on the crisply cut Old Trafford grass is what he was put on this earth to do. And the greatest goalscorer of all time took back to the Premier League like a duck to water.
United didn’t have the most convincing of first halves, but the knocks on Newcastle’s door were progressively getting louder. Despite some huffs and puffs, the Reds didn’t really test the visiting shot stopper Freddie Woodman a whole lot — until they did. Steve Bruce’s side were well aware of the occasion, wasting every second at every opportunity. But like most mortal men, they eventually succumbed to the pressure.
It was stoppage time of the first half and Paul Pogba found Mason Greenwood on the edge of the area. The in-form forward cut in onto his left and unleashed a testing strike on goal, requiring Woodman to intervene for the first time. Taking a slight deflection, the ball proved too hot to handle for the keeper, falling fortuitously right under the feet of you know who. The fox in the box that he is, Ronaldo sniffed out the opportunity and tapped home the opener. The stadium erupted.Embed from Getty Images
The trademark “Siuuu” was emphatic. ‘Viva Ronaldo’ broke out all over the stadium. It felt like the start of a welcome home party. But after the break, an in the end small obstacle appeared on the road. The visitors, as resigned as they looked, were not down and out.
Bruce’s side surprisingly equalized just before the hour mark through Javier Manquillo. A sharp counter attack which saw a few Reds over commit high up the pitch left Raphael Varane exposed on the edge of United’s box in a 2-v-1 situation. The Spanish full back converted expertly past David De Gea. But there was something about that setback that didn’t feel all that worrying, certainly amongst the crowd present. There was an aura of inevitability around the place that United would respond. And they did.
It was level for six minutes until United broke out on the run. The Reds thrive with space to move into and that’s exactly how Ronaldo got his second. Luke Shaw burst into the opposition half with Ronaldo sprinting in behind. The Englishman promptly spotted the run of his forward and slipped the ball right into his path. Ronaldo deftly touched it into his stride with his right foot, before arrowing a left footed laser past Woodman to nudge United back ahead. Some things just never change.
At that point, United were never letting the lead slip again. And Ronaldo was looking oh so comfortable in his new but old surroundings.
There are some things that United will need to iron out in terms of transition defending and ball retention in their own third. But with 10 points from a possible 12, you have to at this point assume that those are just early season jitters. After the 62nd minute, everything else in the game was cosmetic. The visitors were deflated and United just had to put the finishing touches on the three points. And some of those touches were spectacular.
United added a third and fourth in the last ten minutes with Pogba adding his sixth and seventh assists of the season in just four games. The Frenchman is enjoying a phenomenal start to the campaign — contributing from all over the pitch — and the Reds are scoring for fun.Embed from Getty Images
Bruno Fernandes got on the scoresheet for United’s third with a sensational strike from outside of the box which nestled in the top left corner in front of the Stretford End. You simply cannot give a player of Bruno’s quality as much room as Newcastle allowed him in that moment.
The fourth was another thing of beauty — this time collective. Quick one touch football on the edge of the area saw the visiting defenders frazzled by Pogba’s feet before the Frenchman flicked an inviting ball into the area. Alerted by fellow substitute Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial let the ball go with a dummy, right into Lingard’s feet. The returning midfielder — with a point to prove — took it in, opened up his body, and fired in a lovely fourth to put the cherry on top of the cake.
In the end, it was a welcome home party indeed. And if that is a sign of things to come, then United fans are in for a special season once the squad is fully fit and gelled together.
Far from finishedEmbed from Getty Images
Predictably, the forced narratives pre game were proved to be nonsense. Historically, not many have thrived on the biggest stage as much as Ronaldo. It was never in doubt that he would step up to the occasion. At this point, what’s the point of ever doubting him after all that he has done?
With minimal knowledge of his teammates, the habits, etc. Ronaldo and United left a very good and lasting first impression. Granted, the level of opposition will improve, but so will this team. And there are still quite a few weapons to return into the fold. The moral of the story — Ronaldo is no ordinary 36-year-old. He is as different as you could imagine.
With him, even in the toughest of games, goals are almost a guarantee. He only needs half a chance. And the best thing for United is, there are quite a few of those players in the side now who can come up with moments of utter brilliance at any moment. And with that, United will be hoping to make a leap over last seasons gap between them and the champions back towards where they really belong.