Ronaldo still valuable to Ten Hag
“It’s done. He’s back. Let’s focus on the game.”
Those were the words of Erik ten Hag when he confirmed Cristiano Ronaldo would return to Manchester United’s squad for Thursday’s Europa League game against Sheriff Tiraspol.
Ronaldo had been dropped for Saturday’s Premier League draw against Chelsea due to his behavior in last week’s win over Tottenham, but he was back in the squad as United sought to qualify for the knockout stage.
All eyes were on the Portuguese superstar at Old Trafford. Eventually he delivered.
The 37-year-old looked set to get frustrated as he missed several chances and was booked for returning the ball after seeing a second-half strike disallowed for offside.
But his perseverance finally paid off in the 81st minute when he crashed in from close range to score the 701st goal of his extraordinary club career.
“Back on track with the same commitment and dedication as usual,” he said on Instagram ahead of Thursday’s game.
Ronaldo is and always has been a winner. Despite his petulance at times, he can still play a key role for Ten Hag in what will likely be the veteran striker’s final season at United.
And he will want to bow out. He has the opportunity to add a new trophy to his incredible collection. The Champions League will always be Ronaldo’s competition. But at the end of May, the Europa League could be too.
Are Arsenal starting to slip?
Football fans never have the chance to be optimistic, and Arsenal fans are sure to be nervous after watching their team be beaten by PSV on Thursday.
Let’s start by setting the scene – PSV away was always going to be Arsenal’s biggest test in Group A. The Dutch side are unbeaten in seven games at Philips Stadion and have lost just once there – against Rangers in their Champions League qualification – all season.
The talent they have in their squad, although below par in London last week, is pretty amazing. On Thursday, Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons looked world class. Luuk de Jong made an inspired appearance in the second half, reminding everyone of his sheer class, to pick but a few.
And just like Mikel Arteta, Ruud van Nistelrooy is proving to be as talented in management as he was on the pitch.
But you would have been forgiven for thinking Arsenal were already assured top spot in Group A, so much their lackluster performance in the Netherlands. The Gunners are now in danger of finishing second in the group, sending them into a two-man play-off, with Barcelona and six-time Europa League winners Sevilla already waiting.
Mistakes were made from the start. For much of the first half, Arsenal took full advantage of their chance, relying on last-minute defending, goalkeeper saves or PSV’s apparent inability to stay wide to keep the level up. .
They always seemed to concede – which they eventually did – with Mikel Arteta having made five changes from the weekend. Gradually, those that were removed from the start began to be introduced, but also did not have a huge effect on the result.
After drawing against Southampton at the weekend, some will now wonder if this is the start of Arsenal’s slide after a blistering start to the season. There seemed to be major disconnects in the squad against PSV and ones that need to be ironed out quickly.
There have also been some question marks over the depth of the squad. However, Thursday’s starting XI had more than enough talent to at least make the game competitive. For much of the game, Arsenal were simply second best.
But Sunday’s game against Premier League bottoms Nottingham Forest provides the perfect opportunity to put their results back on track. Yes, Steve Cooper’s side beat Liverpool last weekend – which will certainly be on their minds – but Arsenal will be confident of a result.
This will set them up perfectly ahead of a now crucial game against Zurich on Thursday, which they must win to top the group and avoid adding two more difficult fixtures to an already crowded fixture list.
Garnacho shows Sancho how it’s done
“I don’t know if it’s real or if I’m dreaming.”
Alejandro Garnacho had a night to remember after making his Manchester United debut against Sheriff Tiraspol.
Applause rang out throughout Old Trafford when the 18-year-old was taken off 79 minutes and again as he left the pitch full-time. They were impressed with what they saw.
United fans are no strangers to seeing an exciting young talent running on the wing at Old Trafford. Only 19 years ago it was Cristiano Ronaldo.
Garnacho wasn’t polite, but he grew into the game and eventually took it by the scruff of the neck. He was raw, missing scoring and scoring chances, but the teenager showed something that was largely missing in wide areas for United this season.
The Argentine was brave in possession and ready to take on his man, often succeeding. His unpredictability caused chaos in the Sheriff’s defense and unlocked space behind their low block as he showed no fear as he brought the ball to the line on his weaker left foot.
Garnacho provided a timely reminder of all the things that were missing from Jadon Sancho’s game after taking his teammate’s place in the starting lineup.
His first full outing will give his manager Erik ten Hag food for thought. Although he is highly unlikely to start against West Ham on Sunday, live on sky sportshe is certainly in the conversation moving forward.
Aguerd gives Moyes food for thought
West Ham manager David Moyes will be delighted his side maintained their 100 per cent Europa Conference League record this season with a well-deserved 1-0 win over Silkeborg as it means the Scotsman can now rest the players crucially for next week’s trip to FC. Steaua Bucuresti during a turbulent period of the season.
This Eastern European clash is sandwiched between Premier League fixtures at Manchester United on great sunday and at home to Crystal Palace the following week, so any opportunity to rest the players will be gratefully taken by Moyes.
Not only was Moyes able to get a useful look at young midfielder Conor Coventry at the London Stadium, he was also able to give centre-back Nayef Aguerd a first run-out of the season, their summer arrival of 30 million from Rennes, after a three-month layoff following an ankle injury picked up in pre-season.
While the 26-year-old Morocco international will have far tougher exams than Silkeborg provided, he has always looked to the role at the heart of the Hammers’ defense and could even start now at Old Trafford this weekend after impressing his manager.
“I didn’t tell him he was leaving until today,” Moyes said. “But he’s a good athlete and he’s in good shape. He doesn’t have enough match practice but the match worked well for him.
“He did it well, did a few races, took on a few challenges. It was a really good opener for him.”
So all in all the perfect night for Moyes and Co…