Cristiano Ronaldo’s second Manchester United debut is eagerly anticipated by supporters after the Portuguese signed from Juventus before the end of the summer transfer window.
Newcastle are set to face the United on Saturday afternoon and the 36-year-old could be in line for a start, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have to consider more than emotion and sentiment before selecting his team.
Ronaldo will undoubtedly help with United’s ability to find the net this season, but he’s also likely to impact the team across other departments, and Solskjaer will have to be aware of those changes.
His defensive work in particular could be an obstacle; he averaged just 6.7 pressures per 90 in Italy last year, which ranked him in the bottom 1 per cent of forwards across Europe’s top five leagues.
Ronaldo is a lot more of a passenger without the ball than a player such as Edinson Cavani for example, who has averaged 15.4 pressures over the past year at Old Trafford.
Many would argue that Ronaldo is worth accommodating despite his lack of defensive work, as the energy that he consequently dedicates to attacking tends to deliver remarkable returns.
Although he needs to be carried to an extent without the ball, he’s scored an average of 32.6 league goals per season since he left Manchester in 2009, which is quite incredible.
Even Jurgen Klopp — head coach of United’s biggest rivals — once talked about how certain elite talents can be treated as tactical luxuries. When talking about the need for every one of his players to defend, he said: “Unless you are Cristiano or Lionel Messi, then defend. Easy rules.”
Due to Ronaldo’s tendency to refrain from closing down opponents, Solskjaer could adapt his approach to compensate for the presence of his new striker.
Rather than consistently pressing high up the field, perhaps United will adopt more of a reactive block instead, before springing forward and counter-attacking once regaining possession.
A deeper defensive line could impact the number of crosses faced by the team, but the dominant aerial strength of Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane should be able to cope with those high balls.
It could also improve the team’s compactness, with United suffering against Wolves recently due to how Bruno Lage’s outfit exploited the openness of their midfield department.
Last season, Juventus ranked 11th in Serie A for pressures in the attacking third, although it remains to be seen how much of that approach stemmed from Ronaldo’s defensive traits.
Solskjaer will be keen to name him as a starter as soon as possible but ultimately, his inclusion could be more complicated than many appreciate.