Cristiano Ronaldo could be the biggest winner of Man United changes under Ten Hag

Manchester United’s attacking struggles this season illustrate why simply signing star names is not enough. Instead, a coherent plan is needed to ensure those star signings thrive.

At the end of the 2020/21 season, United’s attack was one of the most dynamic in the league. The Red Devils’ top five scorers netted a combined 84 goals between them.

Twelve months on, that figure is just 49. The use of United’s two attacking signings must be examined.

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Jadon Sancho was thought to be a specialist right-winger, making him an ideal addition for United’s attack. United’s right sided attack was often nullified.

Marcus Rashford was often played out of position on the right, both to accommodate Pogba and because he was a superior option to Dan James. Sancho, pursued by United for over a year, had contributed 50 goals and 14 assists across four seasons for Borussia Dortmund.

However, by the end of his reign, Ole Gunnar Solskjær had no clear plan on how to use him.

Solskjaer said in an interview the previous December that he wanted a United attack based on speed. “We want to be quick on the break, with quick players”, the Norwegian said. “Quick attacking players to cause problems when we’re defended (against) well.”

Sancho, for all his qualities, was not a player who used explosive pace to take on opposition defenders. Instead, at Dortmund he linked up with attacking full-backs Achraf Hakimi and Thomas Meunier to create and score.

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This shortcoming would not have mattered so much if United possessed a mobile striker up front. Instead, Cristiano Ronaldo was re-signed. Despite him still being a very good finisher, he can no longer be relied upon to beat defenders purely on his speed.

To make Ronaldo work, United needed to play to his strengths. He needed to be deployed solely as a potent goal scorer, with the rest of the team making up for his reduced mobility from him.

United have failed to do that, as evidenced by the Portuguese international repeatedly dropping deep to receive the ball, leaving no threat through the middle.

Mason Greenwood, who started the first game of the season as a striker, was shifted to the right because of Ronaldo. The Englishman has been unavailable for selection since February.

Marcus Rashford, who posted 21 goals last season, has managed just five this time around. Meanwhile, Anthony Martial saw little game time, and upon his return from Sevilla he could leave permanently.

Solskjaer’s attacking philosophy came unstuck. Partly, this was due to circumstances outside of his control. However, he also signed two attacking players with very different skill sets and failed to integrate them within a coherent structure.

Ralf Rangnick has fared no better. In March’s Manchester derby, I started Bruno Fernandes up front. If Erik ten Hag is to re-build a forward line, he must ensure that any new additions are signed because they fit into a clear tactical plan, not because they are the flavor of the day.

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Ronaldo could finally get what he wants at United – and he deserves it.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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