Cristiano Ronaldo is heading back to Old Trafford.
Going into Friday, it seemed as though Manchester City would be signing one of United’s all-time greats.
On Friday morning, the deal appeared to be edging closer – Ronaldo was pictured leaving Juventus’ training ground before coach Massimiliano Allegri confirmed the 36-year-old was departing the club altogether.
Yet in the time it took for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Pep Guardiola to complete their pre-match news conferences, the deal had turned on its head.
By early afternoon in the United Kingdom, City had pulled out to leave United as clear front-runners and, just before 17:00 BST, Ronaldo’s sensational return to Old Trafford had been confirmed.
United reached an agreement with Juve for the attacker, who scored 81 goals in 98 Serie A matches after joining from Real Madrid in 2018, nine years after his first spell in the Premier League ended.
The €23million (£19.7m) deal is subject to the completion of personal terms, a medical and the acquisition of a visa, but none of those are expected to cause issues.
So, with Ronaldo set to be back in the fold, Stats Perform assesses how United are likely to line up.
4-2-3-1: David de Gea; Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw; Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba; Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford; Cristiano Ronaldo.
GK: David de Gea
While he’s probably no longer regarded among the world’s very best goalkeepers, De Gea still edges out Dean Henderson for a place in this team at the moment, though he is sure to be pushed hard once the England international returns from injury. De Gea played 26 times in the league last season and conceded 32 goals from an expected goals against (xGA) value of 28.1, meaning he was culpable for the concession of nearly four goals over the course of the campaign. Henderson, on the other hand, outperformed his xGA figure of 13.8 by only conceding 12 goals in the 13 appearances he made, giving him a ‘goals prevented’ record of 1.8 – this suggests he was the more dependable of the two goalkeepers, and his save percentage of 76.5 was significantly better than De Gea’s (65.2) as well.
RB: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Wan-Bissaka made 34 league appearances last term. Of all defenders in the top flight, only Leeds United’s Luke Ayling (61) registered more successful tackles than the former Crystal Palace full-back (54), though his success rate of 61.4 per cent was better than the former’s (56.5 per cent). Wan-Bissaka also improved his contributions to United’s attack with six goal involvements, a figure bettered by only six defenders, while just four kept more than the 13 clean sheets he recorded.
CB: Raphael Varane
Ronaldo will be joining up with one of his former Madrid team-mates, with World Cup-winner Varane having previously arrived to bolster United’s defence. Out of LaLiga defenders to contest 20 or more aerial battles last term, Varane led the way with a 76 per cent success rate, which vastly improves on Victor Lindelof’s 59.4 per cent aerial success rate from last season.
— Raphaël Varane (@raphaelvarane) August 27, 2021
CB: Harry Maguire
Alongside Varane, Maguire adds leadership and Premier League experience. The England man won 63.8 per cent of his duels last season, while his aerial prowess should help United dominate in both boxes. His ability with the ball often gets overlooked, and expect to see plenty of long diagonals from left to right, where Jadon Sancho or Mason Greenwood will no doubt be waiting.
LB: Luke Shaw
Shaw does have Alex Telles as quality competition but there is no doubting the 26-year-old’s place in this XI. Of Premier League defenders, only Trent Alexander-Arnold (77) created more chances than Shaw (72) last term, while the left-back created an average of 2.4 opportunities per 90 minutes, the most in the league among defenders.
CM: Scott McTominay
Ronaldo’s signing does mean one thing; Solskjaer has to be bold with his team selections. With so much attacking quality at his disposal, the Norwegian must, outside of the biggest games, dispense with a midfield duo of McTominay and Fred, and it is the Scotland international – who is currently out injured – who should get the nod.
CM: Paul Pogba
A long-standing issue with Solskjaer’s preferred 4-2-3-1 is whether or not it gets the best out of Pogba, who starred for France at Euro 2020 in a midfield three. That has not been much of an issue so far this season as he’s been filling in brilliantly on the left in Marcus Rashford’s absence, with Pogba already registering five assists, becoming the first player in Premier League history to manage that tally across the opening two games of a campaign.
5 – Paul Pogba is the first player in Premier League history to register five assists after his team’s first two games of a single season. Inventive. pic.twitter.com/2pR3W3YIBg
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 22, 2021
RW: Jadon Sancho
If Ronaldo is one for the here and now, then Sancho is a player for United’s future, though the ex-Borussia Dortmund flyer is of course a star in his own right. He seems likely to alternate with Greenwood for a role on the right. He scored 38 goals and provided 45 assists in 104 Bundesliga appearances for Dortmund; since his debut in October 2017, only Thomas Muller (91) and Robert Lewandowski (137) managed more direct goal involvements prior to the start of 2021-22.
AM: Bruno Fernandes
Ronaldo will not be the only Portugal star on show at Old Trafford. Solskjaer’s team has been built around Fernandes, who created a league-high 95 shooting chances last season, assisting 12 goals and scoring a further 18. His hat-trick against Leeds on the opening day of 2021-22 also has him joint-top of the scoring charts after two games.
LW: Marcus Rashford
Rashford is currently recovering from surgery on a shoulder injury that plagued his 2020-21 campaign, with Pogba, Anthony Martial, Sancho, Greenwood and Daniel James – if he stays put – likely to battle it out for a place on the left in the meantime. Ronaldo, of course, can also play from the left, though it seems he will be much better utilised as the focal point in United’s attack.
ST: Cristiano Ronaldo
United have Edinson Cavani, but there can surely be no doubt who will start in the majority of matches. Ronaldo is a bona fide superstar who has – alongside Lionel Messi – sustained his success at the highest level for almost 20 years. Ronaldo is the only United player to score 30+ goals in a season in Premier League history (31 in 2007-08), and while that record may seem out of reach, his arrival could have transformed the Red Devils into genuine title contenders.
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