Why Manchester United should manage Cristiano Ronaldo’s workload

On Saturday evening, Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 at Old Trafford. The man with all three of United’s goals was Cristiano Ronaldo. It was Ronaldo’s 59th career hat-trick, although only his second for United, and his first since re-joining the club last summer.

All three of Ronaldo’s goals against Spurs were exceptional in their own way. The first was a phenomenal strike from around 25 yards out, which flew into the top left corner of Hugo Lloris’ goal, leaving the Frenchman with no chance. The second goal was finished from five yards, as Ronaldo met Jadon Sancho’s pass. However, he made a great run into the box and showed why he is such a deadly poacher. The third goal, to seal the win for United, was a classic Ronaldo header. He lost his marker and leapt above every other player to head Alex Telles’ corner home.

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This excellent performance from Ronaldo came after a period of rest due to a small hip flexor injury. Ronaldo missed the Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium last weekend.

United clarified the situation and explained that Ronaldo went back to Portugal to rehabilitate for a few days, as well as missing some training sessions to fully recover.

He returned to training on Thursday, just two days before the Tottenham game. Ralf Rangnick thought Ronaldo was fit enough to start at the weekend, a decision which was clearly the right one.  

Here is a look at why managing Ronaldo’s recovery plans, and reducing his workload, could be a good idea as the season draws to a close, and how it could impact the team as a whole.  

What United could do to manage Ronaldo’s fitness

Ronaldo’s injury record is remarkable. The highest number of days he has missed across his career was during his first spell at United. Ronaldo was side-lined for 94 days in 2008, although that was largely throughout the summer. He only missed four games for United in all competitions at the start of the season.

However, the Portugal captain has previously been out injured with a hip flexor injury; the issue caused him to miss one game for Juventus last season. This injury is not a recurring problem. However, it is still vital to manage his fitness levels, especially for someone as important as Ronaldo.

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One thing United could do is create a specific plan for Ronaldo, to help micromanage his recovery after training, after a game and if he is overcoming an injury. At 37 years old, Ronaldo’s fitness levels are far better than most players around his age, but recovery is still naturally harder as you get older.

Alternatively, United could give Ronaldo more time off. Whilst I am not suggesting he should not train at all, reducing the striker’s workload during the week is a route United could explore.

This week, Ronaldo trained for just two days, before scoring a hat-trick at the weekend. Of course, it is easier said than done, and there is obviously a lot of work that goes into it. However, rest can only have benefited Ronaldo and slightly decreasing the number of times he trains per week could help him on a matchday.

Resting Ronaldo could help the team as a whole

Aside from scoring a hat-trick, Ronaldo’s link-up play was excellent against Spurs, which also could have benefited from his rest last week. He also looked sharp off the ball, making some good runs, and regularly making himself an option for a pass.

A perfect example of this from Saturday’s game came in the second half. Whilst it did not result in a United goal, a chance was created for Ronaldo, thanks to his link-up play with Sancho and some great movement off the ball.

Sancho cushioned a pass from Nemanja Matic down to Ronaldo on the right-hand side, who returned the pass to winger on the touchline. Ronaldo made a smart run into space in the Spurs box, before receiving another pass from Sancho and forcing Lloris into a save with a good shot on goal.

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In recent weeks, Ronaldo has received criticism for poor play during moments like this. Some has been fair criticism; some has been unfair. However, against Spurs, this was a regular occurrence throughout the game. As the above example shows, United can play much better football when Ronaldo is helping to link up the play.

At Old Trafford on Saturday, he regularly dropped back into a deeper position to receive the ball, before quickly moving it on and making a different run. He also made runs that helped create space for his teammates.

By no means am I suggesting that this is solely because of the rest Ronaldo had. He is one of the greatest footballers ever, so this is something he should regularly be able to do. However, every player can struggle for form at times, and the rest he had could have helped Ronaldo rediscover his best form, both in front of goal and from the team’s perspective.

Should United rest Ronaldo more often?

With nine league games and at least one Champions League fixture remaining this season, it would be an ideal time for Ronaldo to rediscover his best form. United fans want a fully-fit Ronaldo to play every game. Even if he is not necessarily playing at his best, you always feel there could be a moment of magic, be it a goal himself or a contribution to a teammates’ goal. After all, Ronaldo is the greatest goal scorer in football history.

Ultimately, it is a decision that lies with Rangnick and his coaching staff. We can only decipher so much from the outside, but the rest certainly seems to have helped Ronaldo against Tottenham. Prolonged periods of training rest may well benefit him as the season draws to a close, meaning United can get the most out of him in the battle for a top four and in the Champions League.

Whatever decision is made, you can never count out the inevitable Cristiano Ronaldo.

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