When Manchester United beat their rivals Manchester City to the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo at the end of the summer transfer window, the move was heralded as a great success for the Red Devils. However, as the season has progressed, the great forward has shown signs of decline, particularly since the departure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from the dugout and the arrival of Ralf Rangnick.
Due to Ronaldo’s lack of success in front of goal and the issues affecting the players around him in the final third, United have fallen off the pace in the battle to finish in the top four of the Premier League, although they are still widely considered in the football betting tips to be able to beat out West Ham United, Arsenal and Tottenham for the coveted Champions League spot.
Ronaldo was just discovering the peak of his powers during his previous spell with United, winning the crown three times in a row before he opted to leave Old Trafford. He not only scored brilliant goals, but he was also prolific in front of the net. He established his legacy in ten years at Real Madrid before excelling for three seasons with Juventus.
Pep Guardiola was keen to sign the Portuguese star not as the dominant player of old, but a reliable presence in the final third with the ability to score decisive goals at important times. United signed Ronaldo not out of need, but the desire to keep their once prized asset out of the hands of their bitter rivals.
It was a move based on sentiment rather than a requirement and, since then, Ronaldo has been shoehorned into the United team by both Solskjaer and Rangnick. The formidable Ronaldo began the season well in both the Premier League and Champions League, notching vital strikes to keep United in Europe’s elite competition against Atalanta. However, since the turn of the year, the 37-year-old has scored only four goals in his last 12 Premier League appearances, two of which came against Arsenal in a 3-2 victory over the Gunners in December.
Under Rangnick’s tenure, he has managed just two goals, ramping up the pressure on the German and the rest of the line-up to pick up the burden. Rangnick has not been able to deploy his pressing system, as although Ronaldo has been willing to play to his manager’s tactics, his levels of stamina are not what they were at his peak. It has affected the structure of the team around him as Bruno Fernandes has been forced into a slightly deeper role, Marcus Rashford has gone completely off the boil this term and Jadon Sancho has found life difficult in settling into the team.
City was the team that was supposed to be undone in the final third after Sergio Aguero left the club at the end of his contract and they lost out on Ronaldo. However, the philosophy and the structure provided by Guardiola has allowed the club to flourish at the top of the Premier League. United spent big to improve their fortunes in the final third, their lack of cohesion and ideas has left them reeling again. Unlike at the peak of his powers, not even Ronaldo can bail out a club devoid of structure.