Cristiano Ronaldo has given Erik ten Hag his Manchester United blueprint with Arsenal performance – Tyrone Marshall

First it was Ralf Rangnick that was going to end Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United career, now it is Erik ten Hag.

The appointment of the godfather of gegenpressing at the start of December was supposed to signal bad news for Ronaldo, but the desire to write off the most productive goalscorer in professional football overlooks his capacity for reinvention.

Ronaldo produced one of his best performances of this season with Rangnick in the stands when United beat Arsenal at Old Trafford and days after the appointment of Erik ten Hag was confirmed he was in fine form against the Gunners once again.

READ MORE: Ten Hag has a coaching priority after Arsenal defeat

The 37-year-old’s impact as a goalscorer has rarely been in doubt this season but simply sticking the ball in the back of the net isn’t always enough for the appetites of modern coaches.

That was why Rangnick’s devotion to a high press was supposed to signal bad news for Ronaldo, just as Ten Hag’s desire to implement a fast, energetic, pressing game at Old Trafford is also going to be the end for the striker.

But after a traumatic week which must have brought unimaginable pain to Ronaldo and his family, he produced a performance that would have surely met with Ten Hag’s approval.

The narrative that the Dutchman would end Ronaldo’s second United spell didn’t particularly stack up anyway, given he has played with a 6ft 3ins center forward at Ajax this season, but Ronaldo showed he is far more than just a goalscorer at the Emirates Stadium.

Granted, he took the goal he scored in the first half quite brilliantly and also found the back of the net with a sweetly-struck volley after the break, albeit from an offside position.

But I have offered much more than that. Ronaldo dropped deep to link the attack, allowing Bruno Fernandes to move past him, and also drifted to the wings as well to get heavily involved in the build-up play.

He should have registered a second-half assist when playing a perfectly weighted pass to Diogo Dalot, who saw his near-post shot well-saved by Aaron Ramsdale.

The irony in a defeat that ends United’s hopes of playing in the Champions League next season is that this was as well as they’ve played in two months, with Ronaldo the star of the show.

They didn’t deserve to be 2-0 down in the first half and quickly got back in the game. For the first 25 minutes of the second half they were the dominant force. Had Ronaldo, rather than Fernandes, taken the penalty then perhaps this would have been a different story.

If Ten Hag pores over the tape of this game while in Amsterdam he will find plenty to like, at least from an attacking perspective. Anthony Elanga and Jadon Sancho had the beating of Cedric Soares and Nuno Tavares, with Ronaldo was the lynchpin of the attack, far more than a static No. 9.

Ten Hag has shown he can be tactically versatile with his very different Ajax sides. This season’s version has been built around Sebastien Haller, but in 2018/19 it featured Dusan Tadic as a roving false nine.

On this evidence, Ronaldo could play a similar role. He was more involved in United’s build-up play than he has been for a long time.

Rather than Ten Hag telling Ronaldo he’s no longer required, the decision on the player’s future is likely to come down to what he wants himself. To stay at United will require a first season outside of the Champions League since 2002/03, when he was still at Sporting.

If he’s willing to take on that challenge then he’s shown Ten Hag he can fit into his system.

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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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