How Manchester United can get the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo…

September 11th, 2021 | Football

Cristiano Ronaldo has completed his return to Manchester United. Football fans, pundits and coaches have been overwhelmed by this summer and this news in particular. But now the buzz is starting to wear off I can think straight I’ve decided to look at how the Red Devils can get the best out of their star player.

Cristiano Ronaldo left United as a tricky winger with an eye for goal. We know he still possesses his incredible dribbling, immaculate first-touch and a decent change of pace, but he’s now more of a target man striker. He utilises his movement in and around the box to find space for teammates to feed him. He can finish with either foot with ease and possess an outstanding leap which leads to him being able to show off his incredible heading ability.

He can make the odd chance for himself and draw a foul with his trickery, but he’s definitely a more service-based attacker. So how can Manchester United provide him this service?

Last season there were occasions when the Red Devils struggled to create for their strikers, regardless of who’s filling in the no.9 role. Whether it be Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood or at times Marcus Rashford, they rarely got one clear cut chance a game, if that. The main problem was teams figured out Bruno Fernandes was the main source when it came to creativity, meaning if you stop Bruno, you pretty much stop United creating chances. Two things helped improve this towards the end of last season. When Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood were deployed in the wide areas, United struggled to create many chances. The reason behind this is that the two academy graduates are more inside-forwards than natural wingers so are always going to be thinking about getting of a shot rather than crossing or linking up with Bruno. I’m not saying the two can’t create or link up, but they are more individually minded players. Paul Pogba being moved to a more advanced position, a free-roaming role on the left hand side, really helped change the lack of creativity. It meant the Frenchman could be closer and link up with Bruno Fernandes in those attacking midfield areas.

This makes it harder for the opposition to cope defensively as there were two creative threats in the no.10 areas. If you focus on Fernandes, you leave Pogba free. If you focus on Pogba, you leave Fernandes free. This worked well as it meant Pogba could express himself without having to worry as much about defending, which isn’t his strong point. However, Pogba’s free role on the left where he often came inside meant there wasn’t a lot coming from the wide areas. This is where Luke Shaw comes in. The Englishmen was brilliant going forwards. He linked up play, provided pace, energy and directness in the final third and constantly delivered good crosses, either in open-play or from a dead-ball situation. There was plenty of space for Luke Shaw on the left-wing as Paul Pogba’s movement to inside channels often dragged the full-back with him, leaving space in that left channel.

These two improvements really helped the team last season, especially when it came to getting the best out of Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood, both hitting a purple-patch towards the end of the season. This season with Cristiano means these improvements must continue to get the best out of the Portuguese legend and provide him with consistent service. Jadon Sancho’s arrival from Borussia Dortmund hopefully means Paul Pogba can be pushed back into central midfield with a licence to get forwards and Sancho can provide that secondary creative role, with Bruno, in the final third.

It’s also important that United cross the ball regularly from both sides. I believe all of Manchester United’s wide players are capable of good deliveries, but I’m looking more at the full-backs to provide this service. We know Luke Shaw crosses a lot, and to good effect, so I’d continue to encourage this. As for Aaron Wan-Bissaka I’d be encouraging him to continue improving his crossing and be asking him to do it more often. I’d also like to see Diogo Dalot be given plenty of chances as I think he could become our first-choice right-back and is better than Wan-Bissaka going forwards and could suit games when teams sit back. Diogo possesses great link-up play and crossing ability. He can be caught out defensively, but seems to have improved on that part of his game in Italy. I really do believe playing Diogo would help get the best out of Cristiano.

Finally the midfield has to be quicker in moving and progressing the ball. Teams are often going to sit back against United which makes it vital that you move the ball quickly. I’m a fan of Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic and Fred, but they can stay on the ball for a bit too long, Although McTominay does progress the ball by running with it rather than passing it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I’d like to see Paul Pogba, Donny van de Beek or even Hannibal Mejbri from the youth system, deployed in Solskjaer’s preferred midfield double-pivot to help set a quicker tempo and progress the ball with one or two touch passing. This makes it harder for the opposition to organise themselves defensively and stay compact. The quicker passing also means regularly switching the ball from side to side and stretching their defence. The high tempo will also help get the supporters behind United, which especially at Old Trafford can be like having a 12th man.

I know a lot of Manchester United fans and football pundits have voiced their concerns surrounding the defensive midfield position, but I believe it’s not as big a problem as people make it out to be. I respect my fellow United fan’s and pundits opinions, but I really rate Scott McTominay and believe with the centre-back partnership of Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane, along with a solid goalkeeper who can operate as a sweeper, with Dean Henderson and David de Gea both being capable of this, that United will be fine with and without the ball. If a team’s sitting back United, with the ball and especially at home, could just have Maguire, Varane and McTominay stay back and have everyone else bomb forwards and try and overwhelm the opposition’s midfield and defence, something they often did under Sir Alex Ferguson.

I can’t wait for Saturday to see how Cristiano does and I hope Ole and United can get the best out of him.


Please note: The football articles that feature on this site are being written by Jack Dixon as part of his work experience. He is a teenager and looking for work experience within the football industry. He is currently studying for his media and art A-levels.