Is Cristiano Ronaldo the cause of or the solution to Manchester United’s problems? It’s a question that is never far from the lips of those around Old Trafford.
Ronaldo’s brilliant hat-trick – a first-half tap-in, a trademark towering header and a 20-yard free-kick – secured a 3-2 win at home to Norwich on Saturday to maintain their hopes of a place in next season’s Champions League.
His efforts moved the Portuguese on to 99 career Premier League goals and into joint-third spot in this season’s Premier League top scorer standings, with 15.
It is the 16th season in a row that Ronaldo has scored 20 or more club goals in all competitions, it was his 60th career treble, and he has scored 12 more goals than any other United player this season.
Surely stats to make talk of the 37-year-old being a hindrance a nonsense? Norwich boss Dean Smith certainly thought so.
“I told my players at half-time if you score me 20 goals and give me 15 assists you wouldn’t need to press as much,” he said.
In other words, as long as Ronaldo is delivering, United should stick with him.
And, at the moment, his output is doing some heavy lifting at Old Trafford.
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Coupled with his previous hat-trick against Tottenham two games ago, Ronaldo is the only player to have scored for United in a Premier League game he has been involved in since the win at Leeds on 20 February.
His value to this United squad remains immense and, when Erik ten Hag takes over as manager as expected, some serious conversations need to be had about whether Ronaldo will remain at Old Trafford for the final year of his contract.
“In the end, this is not my decision,” said interim United boss Ralf Rangnick. “Cristiano has another year on his contract. This will be a decision for the new manager to take together with the board.
“But he showed against Tottenham and today that he can be the difference-maker in games like this. It is no coincidence he has the best goalscoring record of all players in history.”
‘Very difficult’ test awaits against Liverpool
On a day when Ronaldo shone there were nevertheless negative headlines for United, with some fans holding a protest march against the Glazer family’s ownership before the match and Paul Pogba being booed as he left the field during it.
But Rangnick’s focus was the game itself – and he delivered a damning assessment.
He was particularly scathing about his side’s defensive physicality, saying “no other team in the league” concedes the kinds of goals Kieran Dowell and Teemu Puuki scored for Norwich.
And when asked to explain his downbeat assessment of United’s top-four chances given defeats for Tottenham and Arsenal mean they are now just three points behind, Rangnick pointed to next week’s encounter with Liverpool, who reached the FA Cup final after beating Manchester City 3-2 on Saturday.
“Everybody has seen today’s game and everybody knows what kind of team we are playing on Tuesday,” he said.
“They have just beaten Man City, they are in the cup final and they might have a chance to win four trophies this season.
“If we play like we did today, it will be very difficult to even get a point.
“This is what we have to be realistic and aware of. We have to be lot better when the opposition is in possession.”
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