Why the Manchester derby will revolve around Ronaldo
The Independent|November 06, 2021
Before Cristiano Ronaldo claimed that exquisite equaliser against Atalanta, there was a touch more anxiety among the Manchester United executives.
MIGUEL DELANEY


The situation was again looking rather stark. Some had naturally allowed themselves to believe that all had been eased by the 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur. A renewed hope spread through the hierarchy that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could indeed steady all this, take the club to the end of the season… and then who knows? There remains an optimism among some.

Most of the 2-2 draw against Atalanta reminded everyone just how precarious that hope is. The problems haven’t gone away. There was much more to the recent dismal spell than just a bad run of form or low confidence. Those problems weren’t arrested by the relief of an easy 3-0 win over a much worse Tottenham Hotspur.

Even more troublingly, Atalanta had eroded any idea that the new 3-5-2 formation was the solution many had thought. There had again been hope that such an approach could see Solskjaer shore up, avoid any more embarrassments, and gradually build the team back up. Atalanta just punched holes everywhere, though. United looked no more secure.

It all means this afternoon’s Manchester derby is another juncture match in the recent history of both the fixture and United’s form. So much of it goes around the man who saved Solskjaer on Tuesday, Ronaldo.

The run-up to the game has naturally featured a lot of media talk about what happened in August between Manchester City and the Portuguese, and how he could only ever have come back to Old Trafford. It just isn’t true.

Ronaldo had got quite far in a planned move to City. Some connected to United initially found him hard to get through to, and a few felt that was because his mind was made up and he didn’t want to be talked out of a move. Pep Guardiola had even outlined precisely how he would fit into the City team.

That remains more than Solskjaer has done. It is not uncharitable to say that Ronaldo’s role in the United team still feels rather vague and undefined. It has just been one of many complications in Solskjaer’s difficult season. That has in turn led to much more debate over whether Ronaldo represents a problem or a solution for the Norwegian.

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