Returning Cristiano Ronaldo hits double as Manchester United beat Newcastle
It was the hottest ticket in town for some time and Cristiano Ronaldo was never going to disappoint. It is rare when one individual transcends a match involving two teams but that is how it was at Old Trafford from the moment Manchester United’s returning icon first stepped out to warm up, sparking roars that could be heard half a mile outside the ground.
Back to where he belongs to reprise a never ending love story (Ronaldo’s words); back in the “magic” No7 shirt (his again), the Portuguese had delighted the capacity crowd with a poacher’s finish on the stroke of half-time.
But the best was to come. United were on their heels after Javier Manquillo’s equaliser for Newcastle and it had been a rather disjointed performance from them up to that point. Ronaldo, though, sliced through to leave nobody in any doubt as to where points were heading or, indeed, the headlines.
Luke Shaw’s pass asked him to accelerate in between two black and white shirts and the manner in which he did so made a mockery of his advancing years. Once in front of Isaac Hayden, the Newcastle defender was never going to catch him and Ronaldo duly rammed his shot under the goalkeeper, Freddie Woodman. Cue that celebration. Again. The photographers had the image they wanted.
Old Trafford basked in the feel-good factor and they glided the scoreline late on with further goals from Bruno Fernandes and the substitute, Jesse Lingard. For Newcastle, there was little to cheer and a long season lies ahead. For United, one item above all. That boy Ronaldo is back.
Solskjaer had teased an element of the drama. Would Ronaldo start? He would not say on Friday. Ronaldo had only played two games previously this season, one as a substitute. But he was always going to star. This is Ronaldo, the ripped and toned sit-up fiend. He is always fit, always ready. Another thing. In the name of nostalgia, of United emotion, could Solskjaer possibly omit him? The manager is not exactly opposed to such notions.
The atmosphere crackled, euphoria mixing with the sentiment. Ronaldo was the last man out of the tunnel and the announcement of his name was prefaced with a greeting. Welcome home. When Ronaldo waved to a friend in the director’s box before kick-out, thousands waved back.
All eyes were on one man only. Even those of the United players at the outset. When Ronaldo burst inside the area in the early exchanges, having executed a step-over, there was nothing on for him in the middle. He lashed into the side-netting from an unfavourable angle.
There were a few scuffs from Ronaldo early on, including a complete miskick on an attempted volley, which drew a rueful smile from him, and the thought occurred that United had better start linking as a team. The Ronaldo show appeared to threaten the wider show, even if it was hard to disentangle the two.
Newcastle were cast in the roles of stooges. Steve Bruce wanted his starting 5-4-1 system to yield nothing and it irked most of those present to see Woodman killing time on a goal-kick as early as the 21st minute. Solskjaer tapped his watch and huffed.
United were sloppy in the first-half, some of their passing lacking accuracy. They laboured to unpick Newcastle and, if the visitors had been able to show greater composure on their forward thrusts, they might have been able to create something. Their best moment before the interval followed a United lapse, Bruno Fernandes losing the ball to Joe Willock following Luke Shaw’s loose throw-in. Willock’s finish was wild. Sean Longstaff also nearly got in only to be snuffed out by Harry Maguire.
United did not manage much before Ronaldo’s goal. There was a Raphael Varane header from Shaw’s corner that flashed past the far post, a break that finished with Jadon Sancho’s shot being blocked and a dangerous Bruno Fernandes cross that went all the way through.
Enter Ronaldo. It was not a goal that Woodman will enjoy watching back as he spilled a Mason Greenwood shot at the feet of Ronaldo, although there did appear to have been a slight deflection off Ciaran Clark. But the scorer did not care and nor did the home support, which included Avram Glazer, the owner – in attendance for the first time in over two years.
It did not really spark United. And instead it was Newcastle who fought back, stunning Old Trafford with the equaliser. It was created by the quicksilver Miguel Almiron, who slipped a challenge and then beat Maguire before switching the ball to the right after a fine burst. Allan Saint-Maximum played in the overlapping Javier Maquillo, who drove past David De Gea.
Where was United’s response? Ronaldo’s answer was emphatic. Joelinton did work De Gea thereafter but United turned the screw when Fernandes picked out the top corner with no Newcastle pressure on the ball. Lingard’s goal followed a Paul Pogba pass and a dummy from another substitute, Anthony Martial. Lingard’s quick feet were matched by the precision of the finish.