The term surreal doesn’t quite captivate what Manchester United fans experienced on Saturday afternoon.
Cristiano Ronaldo, the boy turned superstar during his first tenure with the club was back at Old Trafford, a new beginning to mark the closing chapter of his scintillating career. One last dance.
There was an air of inevitability as to how the game would play out. United would roll over a faltering Newcastle side, with the Portuguese international marking the occasion with at least one goal. In typical CR7 fashion, he grabbed two.
It wasn’t just his name on the score-sheet that ticked expectations too, but the manner of how they were delivered.Embed from Getty Images
His first, at an initial glance, looked lucky. Those that tuned in to watch Ronaldo for the first time in a few years will still be using this to describe the goal, but luck insinuates fortune. There is nothing fortunate about the forward’s consistent positioning and ability to snatch on such chances, it’s a prototype model that has moulded him into the greatest goal-scorer in football history.
Operating as the no.9, the majority of Ronaldo’s work came inside the final third. He held a high position up-top, acting as the focal point for the front-runners around him, selectively dropping deep to play quick one-twos with the wide-men. It was no coincidence that this was Jadon Sancho’s most productive display in red so far.
The touch map below highlights the 36-year-old’s attacking involvement, to which he was involved a fair bit. Ronaldo registered 63 touches in total, with United doing an efficient job in feeding him in such advanced positions. 300 team passes in total came inside the final third, just 26 off from the mid section’s tally – a zone that usually dominates this statistic.
If the Red Devils are to get the most out of the prolific striker, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men will need to replicate a system like this on a regular basis.
The opening show was certainly promising in this regard though. Chance creation was through the roof, with all five players operating behind Ronaldo registering 2+ key passes each. This isn’t even including the top figure within this department, Luke Shaw, who made four on the day. He assisted CR7’s second, who was always an outlet for the attacking left-back.
Complimenting this statement was United’s willingness to pump balls inside the area, with 23 being made in total. Bruno Fernandes came close to finding his international teammate in the box early on, with the midfielder continuously playing lopping balls in-behind.Embed from Getty Images
In a nutshell, the Red Devils were relentless in overloading the channels and getting men forward.
It would be criminal to not dedicate a mention to Paul Pogba too, who picked up his 7th league assist of the season. No player on the park completed more passes, with the Frenchman distributing from the pivot exceptionally. Such strings are needing to be pulled, to supply and equip the front-men to interchange and attack the half-spaces.
All in all, United are looking bolstered. As history has shown, Ronaldo tends to flourish in such set-ups, which usually tends to spark trouble for the opposition.