With a much-anticipated manager losing his first league match, a slipping transfer window and the Cristiano Ronaldo case taking all the attention, Manchester United are experiencing a summer that is as delicate as it is worrying.
Manchester United could hardly start worse. At Old Trafford, against Brighton losing Cucurella and Bissouma, their two best elements, the Red Devils were losing 2-0 at half-time, accompanied by boos from an exasperated crowd. “It was a nightmarish start,” Harry Maguire admitted to Sky Sports after the match.
The sequence of events did not help, despite the narrowing of the gap in the second period. Manchester United thus begins its season with a first defeat, “a real disappointment” according to Erik ten Hag, who arrived in the savior suit a few weeks ago, but as busy managing the Ronaldo case as implementing his tactical principles. The Dutchman is the first manager of the club to lose his first Premier League game since his compatriot Louis van Gaal, in August 2014. A predecessor who did not have a memorable step through the theater of dreams.
Ten Hag will have to find answers to mark the history of Manchester in another way. Specifically to the question that has been raised for a year: Cristiano Ronaldo, beyond his goals, does it really benefit his team? Can the Red Devils afford to have a game focused on the Portuguese star, a formidable finisher but less and less capable of making a difference on his own? The performance of some players, Bruno Fernandes in the lead, has dropped significantly since the arrival of his compatriot.
But now, it is above all the behavior of “CR7” that is disturbing. At the end of July, during a friendly match against Rayo Vallecano, the multiple Ballon d’Or winner left the stadium before the end of the match. “Unacceptable” according to ten Hag, and above all a strong sign of player involvement. Cristiano Ronaldo, aware that MU will not play for the title this season, has wishes elsewhere. Fans overjoyed at his return a year ago are falling from the top.
Result, the Portuguese began on the bench, this Sunday against Brighton, offering his best pout in the stands after the two goals conceded by his teammates. At the forefront, Erik ten Hag had preferred Christian Eriksen, in a role of false number 9. Therefore, Ronaldo’s supporters are increasingly scarce. Even Gary Neville, his former teammate, feels it’s time to part ways with him.
“There’s only one thing to do. We all know that,” the former England international said on his Overlap show. Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward. This season, Manchester may have to take a step back, without Ronaldo, without signing another striker, and go back to playing with Martial, which was unthinkable for me. Martial is talented but has shown that he is not the center forward Manchester United need in the long run. But is-isn’t it better to have him like this year, motivated, instead of Ronaldo, who doesn’t want to be there?”
A trampled transfer window, an offer for Arnautovic
Beyond the Ronaldo case, Manchester United is struggling to get ahead in the transfer market. With no big signings up front, unlike the other five Big Six clubs, and interest in Frenkie de Jong struggling to materialize: activity is very limited. Apart from Christian Eriksen, who arrived on a free transfer, the Red Devils have so far only managed to strengthen themselves defensively, with Tyrell Malacia and especially Lisandro Martínez.
The Argentine, arrived from Ajax, has followed Erik ten Hag, his coach in recent years. But he was very expensive, close to 60 million euros, and will not solve all of Manchester’s problems. In the center of the field in particular, Pogba and Matic left free, without being replaced at the moment.
And it is not the names cited by the British press that will allow an internal revolution. Athletic announces this Sunday that the club would have made an offer to sign Marko Arnautovic. The 33-year-old Austrian is coming off a good season at Bologna, but has already spent six seasons in the Premier League, at Stoke and West Ham, and never proved worthy of signing for a top club. Construction sites are still huge. At Old Trafford, dreams are not for now.
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