In an atmosphere of leaks, snipers and distrust, the moment of truth is looming Manchester United. And Cristiano Ronaldo is where he wants to be, the central figure in the drama.
alf Rangnick’s side take on Manchester City in a mutually decisive derby at the Etihad on Sunday. Hold tight. Let’s rewind. The words “Team von Ralf Rangnick” are so obviously a perversion of reality that they are useless.
Let’s start again. The uneven squad of players with competing interests at the German manager’s disposal cannot afford to drop points against their neighbors. United are fourth in the Premier League but the table is level at the moment. Arsenal – and even Tottenham Hotspur – can overtake them if the London clubs win their games in hand.
All the whispers from Old Trafford point to an elevated level of dysfunction. Ronaldo’s dissatisfaction with the younger players’ work habits and ethics became apparent. The Portuguese and his allies in the ‘Iberian Group’ in the dressing room are unimpressed by some of their English counterparts. Harry Maguire is increasingly the focus of blame – and not without reason. No one is impressed with Rangnick’s training and leadership style.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Richard Arnold, the CEO, is showing signs of following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Ed Woodward. There is no clear strategy at the club. Mauricio Pochettino has been repeatedly linked with the managerial job but there is no real belief that the Paris Saint-Germain manager is the right man. The latest name to be thrown into the mix is Carlo Ancelotti, who is all but the worst fit for a team in this state.
The Italian is one of the best modern managers, but he’s more of a finisher than a builder and certainly not a tactician. Alex Ferguson reportedly suggested Ancelotti. If that’s true, then it’s about time they stopped listening to the venerable Scotsman.
Somehow United will have to put the chaos behind them as they enter the most important phase of the season. After City come Spurs in La Liga and Atletico Madrid in Europe.
Sunday’s game at the Etihad could be a pivotal moment. Especially for Ronaldo.
When the 37-year-old decided to leave Juventus for Manchester last summer, the initial idea was for him to join City. That never happened for two reasons: United were adamant not to let their former hero fall into the hands of Pep Guardiola and Ronaldo wasn’t sure he’d play a big enough role in the first-team if he was part of a squad as good as City’s would be.
In the second leg at Old Trafford, Ronaldo was quite a lost figure. He had a shot, but it was as tame as his performance.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was brought back to United for a statement that would rock City. It did not work. If they have nightmares about him at the Etihad, they wake up relieved to remember he went to Old Trafford.
Ronaldo could lead United past Atlético into an unlikely Champions League final in Paris. Possible but unlikely. He will probably go in the summer. This unruly campaign is looking more and more like a mistake by the club and player with each passing day.
The derby offers a chance for redemption. City have not been at their best in their last two league games – a loss to Spurs and a narrow win over Everton – and could feel the pressure from Liverpool returning on their shoulder in the title race. This is a set for Ronaldo.
As he rampaged through the Premier League during his first spell at Old Trafford, the derby was an afterthought for the Red Devils, a local sideshow compared to the bigger clashes against Arsenal and Chelsea. Now United are the second-rate team, which is not entirely insignificant at the Etihad but is heading in that direction.
The return of the Portuguese did not stop the rot. Maybe it helped. Ronaldo can handle the limelight. He just can’t carry this team.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/premier-league/cristiano-ronaldo-must-step-up-in-manchester-uniteds-time-of-need-and-show-man-city-what-they-missed-out-on-41411316.html Cristiano Ronaldo must step in in Manchester United’s distress and show Man City what they’ve been missing