It was always going to be about Cristiano Ronaldo – a man who simply demands the attention and limelight.
There was never any doubt that he was going to deliver on the big stage, as he always does, and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer laughed off the notion that he wouldn’t start our most recent signing in front of an expectant Old Trafford crowd.
It is easy to write about the two goals that he scored in the 4-1 victory over Newcastle United but there was far more to admire about his movement, his poise, acceleration and nous. Not forgetting the way he seemed to visibly grow and demand more when the Magpies snatched an equaliser.
The ‘clutch’ performer comes alive in the moments that matter and, while leading the line up top, he did this to perfection.
All eyes were on Cristiano and ours were no different. We tracked his every move to provide an in-depth tale of his second debut for those unfortunate not to be able to witness it live…
From the first moment the fans clapped eyes on their idol again, watching him so intently they were cheering his shots in the warm-up, to his post-match interview in front of a still-noisy band of supporters, this was all about Ronaldo.
Chants of ‘Viva Ronaldo’ were a mainstay of the afternoon and were aired again just before kick-off.
His first real involvement came around the third minute when he got a touch to a pass from fellow Portugal international Bruno Fernandes.
An early cross from Aaron Wan-Bissaka looked for the striker, perhaps an indication of what may follow over the course of the season, and he made an instant pass back to skipper Harry Maguire before a bobble affected a loose ball to Jadon Sancho. Everyone was out of their seats soon afterwards, when Bruno’s through ball was just unable to be gathered in by Ronny, who it seemed may have suspected he was offside in any case – even if the flag did not go up.
A sprint to close down Matt Ritchie in the left-back slot showed his willingness to work hard for the team but there were jeers and derision from the away end when he miskicked in front of them, after Bruno had looked for his pal again with a searching ball into the box. A smile crossed his lips and some instant control to a Nemanja Matic clearance showed an immediate return of composure.
Although robbed for a rare Newcastle breakaway raid, which came to nothing, he started displaying his skills – a touch back to Matic and then an audacious flick to Luke Shaw. On the half-hour mark, a pass to Fernandes led to the reigning Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year snaking a shot wide.
There was no penalty forthcoming when he was barged over by Jamal Lascelles in the box but he looked menacing again when capitalising on some good work by Matic but having a shot blocked as he bore in from the right.
Ronaldo exchanged passes with Bruno in the 44th minute but the highlight of the half, and many a day, was to follow in stoppage time. Mason Greenwood’s shot was pushed out by Freddie Woodman and, showing remarkable anticipation and a poacher’s instinct, Ronny left the defenders for dead to be on hand to gobble up the rebound.
Cue bedlam inside Old Trafford – the fans joining in with his trademark celebration and the moment everybody had been waiting for since the announcement that a deal had been done with Juventus.
After the dust settled and the second half got under way, he tried to combine with Sancho down the left but the move was ended by Magpies scorer Javier Manquillo. A flick to Shaw after a stepover may have been misplaced but he retrieved possession and fed Sancho again. Noticeably attempting to calm any nerves and regain stability to the side, he played a couple of simple balls to Paul Pogba and seemed to drop deeper to exert more influence in the wake of the visitors’ strike.
In the 62nd minute, the place erupted again when Shaw burst through the middle to slip the perfect ball to Ronaldo. He took it in his stride and shot early, and powerfully, and it proved too much for Woodman as it flew through the keeper’s defences to restore the lead.
Another trademark celebration and the fans were in dreamland at what they were witnessing.
More straightforward attempts to keep possession by feeding Pogba showed his experience and he drifted out to the right to get involved at one point. Feeding Bruno inside the box, he was always at the cutting edge of things and also slipped in Jesse Lingard, who was able to win a corner.
Ole left him on when making a double substitution and he made a couple of passes to Shaw either side of the stoppage time being announced as the Stretford End burst into his song once again. There was one, only one, slight sniff of a hat-trick chance when substitute Anthony Martial tried to find him with a cross and perhaps the only surprise was that he was not directly involved in Lingard’s late fourth, although he did create space with a far-post run, after Fernandes had added a long-range third.
Ronaldo finished the performance with a wink to the camera. It was one of those many moons ago that prompted some to speculate it would be the end of Ronaldo’s career in England. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
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