The much anticipated Old Trafford appearance of Cristiano Ronaldo is potentially upon us. The brave lads of Newcastle United will be the first test of the Portuguese icon’s abilities back in a league where he first made his mark.
More importantly, this will also be the first time that the world will get a taste of just what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can muster from his versatile roster of options.
Here is how the side can lineup for the game as well as some of the tactics they could use to emerge victorious in their pursuit of the hallowed title.
In terms of availability, Solskjaer is certainly spoiled for choices. The early returns to the training of Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani from the international break would certainly indicate that the duo may start the game. In this regard, it would be interesting to see whether the 36-year-old is relegated to the substitute’s bench – a move that is unlikely to go down well at the Stretford End.
However, the fact that Paul Pogba played 90 minutes for all three of France’s international outings would make a strong argument as to why he ought to be rested for this home fixture. This would permit Ronaldo to try his hand at the left wing, with Cavani taking the middle of the frontline.
As for the right-wing, it would certainly be tempting to give Jadon Sancho another start but Mason Greenwood’s excellent form would arguably earn him the start.
Bruno Fernandes as the central attacking midfielder backed by the pivot of Scott McTominay and Fred, provided the former is match-fit, would be the ideal combination. Likewise, Raphael Varane’s successful debut is bound to see him retain the starting spot for the time being.
On a different note, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial’s goals for England and France respectively could see them give competition to Sancho as ideal attacking candidates to be subbed on from the bench.
Goalkeeper: De Gea
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Varane, Shaw
Midfielders: McTominay, Fred, Fernandes
Forwards: Greenwood, Cavani, Ronaldo
Steve Bruce’s men are still without a win so far this campaign and will be hungry to change that. As such, the hype of this fixture will peg them to be the underdogs which could play into their favour.
The key for the visitors to avoid a defeat then is to ensure that they do not concede early goals. Going the entire first half with a 0-0 scoreline is bound to frustrate the Old Trafford faithful as well as force Solskjaer to tinker with the lineup to allow some of his more versatile forwards to make an impact.
The likes of Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin can then try to make use of the confused space to force an error. Newcastle will also have to try and contain the constant threat and dynamic switching of the former Juventus man, especially when he links up with Fernandes.
As for United, the key to ensuring that Ronaldo, Cavani, and Greenwood have ample chances to attack and score will actually be determined by how good of a job the midfield pivot does in dictating the play.
Newcastle have not shown mettle for sitting deep and tactically frustrating sides so far this campaign so United’s focus should instead be on overwhelming their defense by building from the back, pressing deep, and making the most out of the clinical finishing of Cavani and Greenwood.
The game will also be a test for Fernandes who will have to establish his role alongside that of Ronaldo and manage his work rate so that the Portuguese stars do not expel undue energy on the same cause.