Football Features

“The sound of inevitability” – Five things learned as Ronaldo bags a brace to power Man Utd past Newcastle

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:09, 11 September 2021

In an inevitable afternoon of football, Manchester United smashed Newcastle 4-1 on Cristiano Ronaldo’s second debut.

Old Trafford was packed to see the Portuguese make a goalscoring return to the Premier League as he bagged a brace as the Red Devils fired their way to the top of the table. What did we learn?

1. Mr. Inevitable has arrived

“Manchester United goalscorer, number seven, Cristiano Ronaldo!”

That is the sound of inevitability.

One of the greatest goalscorers football has ever seen made his return to the Premier League at Old Trafford and he did it in typical goalscoring fashion. Twice.

The first was a tap-in, where his excellent movement off the ball saw him moving goalward before Mason Greenwood had even let fly with his shot and was thus in the perfect place to bag the rebound after Freddie Woodman spilled the shot. The opening goal of the game.

The second was a much sharper, latching onto a Luke Shaw pass and dragging the ball into space to make a quick shot with the left that went through Woodman’s legs before the beleaguered goalie had a chance to react. The go-ahead goal after Newcastle’s equaliser.

When Manchester United twice needed a goal, one of the game’s greatest-ever goal-getters grabbed them. One game, six shots, two goals.

That is the sound of inevitability.

2. Newcastle are no mugs

Much as all of the pre-match headlines were all about one team (or one man), and all of the post-match talk will be about one team (or one man) Newcastle United did not approach this game as though they were just there to make up the numbers.

Steve Bruce’s men were full participants in Saturday afternoon’s action, sitting deep to set the tone of the afternoon but also cutting through United’s midfield like a hot knife through butter whenever they got the chance to break out on the counter-attack.

Newcastle created so many chances and only some wayward finishing prevented them from bagging more than their solitary goal. And even that was a work of art, surging on the break the way their hosts so often do themselves. If Callum Wilson had been fit…

3. “Believe Kathryn Mayorga” banner flown over Old Trafford

It is three years since Kathryn Mayorga publicly accused Cristiano Ronaldo of raping her in a Las Vegas hotel in 2009. The Portuguese denies the claim, and the matter was settled out of court for a reported £288,000 payment, something Mayorga’s laywers later argued she was in no state to consent to.

Her story was published by Der Spiegel in 2018 and the case was re-opened. A year later, Las Vegas police concluded that Ronaldo will not face charges because the allegations “cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“I firmly deny the accusations being issued against me. Rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in,” Ronaldo tweeted in 2018 in response to Der Spiegel’s report.

Mayorga is suing Ronaldo for damages in an ongoing civil case still being processed by Nevada’s court system.

In response to all the hype of his re-signing at United, all the floral prose being written praising everything from his ability to his professionalism, feminist group Level Up sought to “disrupt the fanfare and remind crowds of the unresolved allegations” by flying a banner over Old Trafford before the start of the game. The banner simply read: “Believe Kathryn Mayorga.”

It remains to be seen what effect this will have on the discourse surrounding Ronaldo’s return, if any. In a post-#MeToo world where women have been believed when they have accused powerful men of sexual assault, you can’t fault Level Up’s desire to highlight the very serious allegations against Ronaldo.

4. Bruno Fernandes will not cede control easily

Despite everything suddenly being about Cristiano Ronaldo, the man who turned Manchester United from an irrelevance into a genuine contender again was not keen to hand over the spotlight he had so deservedly earned.

After watching his compatriot score a brace to give United the lead, Bruno Fernandes arose from his slumber to thunder in a strike from range. This thing left his feet at such speed it was as if Thor had struck it with Mjolnir.

Bruno Fernandes has been the best player in the Premier League since his debut in early 2020; and while it looks like Cristiano will take the headlines from him, the Portuguese playmaker is not going to cede control of the side so easily. He will remain the tempo pusher, the primary engine of taking the team from casual midfield play to all-out attack.

5. Man Utd still need a midfielder

The Manchester United attack is a magnificent and terrifying unit of players stuffed full of world-class talent. The Manchester United defence is very solid as a unit, albeit they can struggle when exposed to relentless pressure. That ordinarily wouldn’t be an issue except the Manchester United midfield is, well, kind of soft.

Yes Paul Pogba is a magnificent playmaker (two assists today and he is miles clear atop the charts for the playmaker awards) but he isn’t a defensive powerhouse, and while Nemanja Matic was once a brilliant defensive midfielder, he is no longer on that level and even when he plays well (as he did first-half) he is weak on the counter-attack and moreover cannot sustain even his good form for 90 minutes.

Newcastle had a great time with this, rinsing the Red Devils on the counter and even equalising. And when United re-took the lead and even killed the game off, there was never an overwhelming sense of control. Matic grew more and more fatigued and the alternatives of Fred and Scott McTominay (when fit) didn’t inspire great confidence, you can imagine that better sides than Newcastle will be able to expose how incredibly porous Man Utd’s midfield is, no matter how amazing that attack may be.