It’s not a coincidence that so many game-winning moments fall to Cristiano Ronaldo and it happened again for Manchester United last night against Villarreal.
United struggled for the majority of the game, with the Spanish side cutting them open over and over again before eventually taking the lead through Paco Alcacer after Diogo Dalot struggled to deal with Arnaut Danjuma yet again.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made positive substitutions this time around and the game changed in the Reds’ favour, as Bruno Fernandes clipped a free-kick to the edge of the box for Alex Telles to volley home in typical Paul Scholes fashion to equalise.
Then came the onslaught as United pressed for a winner and it came in the 95th minute, their latest ever winning goal in Champions League history, as Cristiano Ronaldo pounced on a Jesse Lingard lay-off to smash into the roof of the net.
It saves United’s Champions League campaign for another week and while it showed exactly why they signed Ronaldo in the summer, the overall performance showed why Juventus weren’t exactly moving heaven and Earth to keep hold of him too.
What Ronaldo brings to a team now at 36-years-old is clear for all to see. He is the ultimate predator in the box, the greatest fox-in-the-box there has probably ever been. Like Solskjaer said in his pre-match press conference and Carlo Ancelotti has said before him, starting with Ronaldo in your team is essentially starting with a goal on the scoreboard already.
But the previous 94 minutes of action showed the flaws that Ronaldo has in his game now as he has developed into the cyborg he is.
His overall game isn’t the most polished, especially as a number nine. His hold up play isn’t the best, with his first touch when his back is to goal often letting him down and his willingness to go down under any sort of physical pressure from a defender meaning attacks break down before they even start.
It also means that United’s greatest weapon in recent years, their wingers and fast-paced attacks, can’t get going into games as much as they once did because it doesn’t suit the way to get the most out of the legendary number 7.
He doesn’t really occupy central defenders in the way someone like Edinson Cavani does and quite regularly he gets frustrated at a lack of service and drops deep to collect the ball, leaving nobody in the vicinity of the goal.
While his five goals in five games so far are telling me the absolute opposite, it’s likely that in the long-term this could start to affect the team.
The team begins to search for him a bit too much in instances, one moment in particular last night showed me this. Fernandes received the ball inside the penalty area after a lovely pass from Paul Pogba and instead of laying the ball off to Mason Greenwood for him to shoot, he instead opted to cross to the back post for Ronaldo who wasn’t even there yet and was surrounded by defenders.
United need to find a way of using their former system in which wide players were vital in creating and scoring goals while the centre-forward was in the box to pick up scraps and finish moves off. On paper, that seems perfect Ronaldo but his presence and status means he’s often doing more than that.
Clearly it works for him individually as his numbers continue to impress all despite his age. But is it sustainable? Long-term, it may come as a detriment to the team when opposition eventually start to pile onto Ronaldo and the team are conditioned to look for him to bail them out.
There’s no doubting that Manchester United will win more games with Ronaldo than without him, as last night showed. But there are already suggestions that a team that already relied heavily on individual brilliance to win them games has become even more reliant on a single brilliant individual to do the job.