Manchester United’s 2022 began in the worst possible way with a home defeat to Wolves. The entire season is quickly becoming one United fans would much rather forget.
Media pundits and supporters are reflecting on where it went wrong, and one theory doing the rounds is whether the Cristiano Ronaldo signing ruined the progress the team were supposedly making.
Has the Ronaldo move been as successful as we all hoped? Clearly not. Could it end up being a relief when Ronaldo eventually moves elsewhere, allowing United to start afresh? Perhaps.
But to pin the blame for United’s woes on Ronaldo misses several key points, and laying the club’s failure at his door does not stack up.
What about United’s poor form pre-Ronaldo?
United’s 5-1 win over Leeds was a freak result and not typical of the pre-Ronaldo era. Without him this season United struggled to a draw at Southampton and were outplayed by Wolves only to sneak a win at the end of August.
But it goes back to last season too. Without Ronaldo, United could not break down a stubborn Villarreal side in the Europa League final. Upon facing them with Ronaldo this season, United won twice.
In the league at the end of last season United stumbled over the line, losing at home to Liverpool and Leicester and drawing with Fulham.
United won just two of the last six league games at the end of last season, and carried on that poor form this season, and that was not and is not Ronaldo’s fault.
United’s midfield is still a disaster zone
The principle reason for United’s malaise is the woeful midfield options, which were ignored by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the summer, and would have remained ignored despite Ronaldo’s addition, which came as an added bonus to the Varane and Sancho deals.
United don’t just need one defensive midfielder to improve the team, although it would help, the midfield needs two or three new faces.
United need players who can protect the defence, and supply the attack, as at present, the players don’t appear capable of doing either.
The one midfielder Solskjaer did buy in three years, was Donny van de Beek, a player deemed not worthy of a start.
You can switch Ronaldo out, and put Erling Haaland in, or even a prime Ruud van Nistelrooy, and it won’t make any difference until the team is blessed with better talented and more balanced midfield options, who don’t get outplayed every single week.
United could not string two passes together against Wolves, and that’s not an uncommon sight, it has been routine. The team’s success, like the narrow win over Wolves earlier in the season, is usually despite the midfield, not because of it.
Coaching and managerial problems
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his coaching team must take the core blame for United’s woes. They chose to ignore the midfield as a source of possession retention, because the strategy was always to play counter attacking football.
Once teams wised up to this and defended deep, United were lost and could not break teams down, especially when Bruno Fernandes’ magic wore off because he was asked to play a staggering 73 games for club and country in 12 months.
Ralf Rangnick and his coaching staff have not had enough time to really sort this team out, and the impact has been underwhelming so far. With less than one month in charge, it is clear he has inherited a broken squad.
To blame these problems on Ronaldo would be wrong. United’s players have picked up bad habits under Solskjaer, and also been mollycoddled.
United don’t play to Ronaldo’s strengths as the team do not have good crossers of the ball. Is it Ronaldo’s fault Solskjaer spent £50 million on a right-back who can’t beat a man and deliver a cross?
United would be out of Champions League already
To wish United had never re-signed Ronaldo would be to accept Champions League failure already. Having failed to get out of the group stages last season, United were so close to missing out again this season.
Ronaldo almost single-handedly hauled United into the knockout rounds, with six goals in five games.
Without Ronaldo, United would have finished third behind Villarreal and Atalanta, and possibly behind Young Boys in fourth too.
United head into the knockout ties with Atletico Madrid with real belief of going toe to toe with them, and that is thanks to Ronaldo. You can’t have it both ways.
Whether United make it into the competition next season, is beginning to become even more of a question mark. Ronaldo may want out next season if United don’t reach the top four, which is his prerogative, as he was sold a very different project when he signed.
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