MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Manchester United may not have won their first game since banishing Cristiano Ronaldo from the squad but Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea seemed to confirm the belief they are better off without the individualistic superstar.
Although they needed a 94th-minute strike from Casemiro to rescue a point, United were dominant for large parts of the game and looked far more cohesive without the five-times world player of the year.
Ronaldo, who has been ordered to train alone by coach Erik ten Hag since leaving the 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur early, has only started two Premier League games this term, the 4-0 thrashing by Brentford and the 0-0 draw with Newcastle United.
In United’s most impressive victories of the season against Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham, the 37-year-old played a grand total of 36 minutes.
His only decisive moment came when he scored the winning goal in the 2-1 win at Everton after Ten Hag was forced to turn to him when Anthony Martial came off injured.
It was his 700th goal in club football and the type of clinical finish few of his team mates are capable of.
Ronaldo’s moments of brilliance, however, are getting ever rarer. Even in the Europa League, where he has started all four matches against mediocre opponents such as Sheriff Tiraspol and Omonia Nicosia, he has only scored once, and that was a penalty.
Ronaldo was United’s top scorer last season with 18 of the team’s 57 Premier League goals after returning to Old Trafford amid huge fanfare, 12 years after his trophy-laden spell with the club.
However, they also suffered a series of humiliating defeats such as losing 5-0 at home to Liverpool and 4-1 to Watford and finished sixth in the Premier League. In the season before he arrived, they finished second and scored 73 goals.
RUTHLESS TEN HAG
Ten Hag’s predecessors Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick did not have the authority to leave Ronaldo out of the team frequently but the Dutchman has been ruthless with him and United must now decide what to do with their famous forward.
They received no serous bids for him in the summer and although offers could arrive in January, the best way to ensure he leaves is to rescind his contract, which would cost the club around 10 million pounds, according to media reports.
One argument against cutting Ronaldo loose is the lack of other attacking options, with Martial being so injury prone, Marcus Rashford missing a glut of clear chances lately and big money signing Jadon Sancho still failing to deliver.
But if they want some advice they could look to Arsenal, who in January took a financial hit to part ways with former captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after he fell foul of coach Mikel Arteta’s disciplinary code.
Arteta, who also kicked Mesut Ozil out before his contract was up, has guided Arsenal to the top of the Premier League and there is now a tangible atmosphere of togetherness at the club.
United are showing signs of a similar revival under Ten Hag and it is becoming clearer that the best way to reach their potential is to rally behind the coach, not their decorated yet diminishing striker.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge)