Real Madrid’s recovery from Cristiano Ronaldo exit sends a message to Manchester United

After Real Madrid beat Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday night, there was the sense that the once-dominant European superpower was returning to its former glory. The Spanish side have struggled since Cristiano Ronaldo left in 2018, but their fortunes are going in a vastly different direction to the Portuguese striker’s this season.

Ronaldo departed Real Madrid for Juventus in 2018 after spending nine years in the Spanish capital — where he won four Champions League trophies and was awarded the Ballon d’Or four times. Real Madrid initially looked to be managing well without their Portuguese superstar, winning the La Liga title just one season after he moved to Italy.

But the Spanish club haven’t won the league since 2020, and have floundered in recent years as they underwent a period of transition. Barcelona have also struggled of late, and La Liga has become more competitive than ever.

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When Ronaldo returned to Manchester United in the summer, it was deemed a signing capable of firing the club back to the Premier League title. United also shelled out a combined £107 million on World Cup and Champions League winner Raphael Varane and highly rated Jadon Sancho, leading many to believe they would challenge for the league again this term.

But the story of United’s season has been quite different from what was envisaged. They currently sit seventh in the Premier League table, six points off fourth-placed Tottenham.

Having started the season brilliantly — recording a five-match unbeaten run in the Premier League — things started to go wrong for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After a dire run, the Norwegian was relieved of his duties in November, and since then United have seemed to limp towards the end of the season under interim manager Ralf Rangnick.

United were eliminated from the Champions League in the last 16 by Atletico Madrid, while Middlesbrough knocked Rangnick’s side out of the FA Cup in February. So far, Ronaldo’s fairytale return to Old Trafford hasn’t gone to plan.

By contrast, Real Madrid’s win over Chelsea on Tuesday saw Carlo Ancelotti’s side advance to the semi-final of the Champions League, while the Spanish club are 12 points clear at the top of La Liga. The club’s hangover from Ronaldo’s 2018 exit appears to have subsided.

Cristiano Ronaldo during Manchester United’s defeat to Everton.

But United’s woes this season aren’t to say that the Portuguese striker has lost his goalscoring touch — far from it. Ronaldo has scored a total of 18 goals in 34 appearances in all competitions this season, with 12 coming in the Premier League.

The 37-year-old also became the all-time top goal scorer in world football in March, after his match-winning hat trick in United’s 3-2 win over Tottenham. Ronaldo was brought to Old Trafford in the summer to score goals, and that’s pretty much what he has done.

While United will not match Real Madrid’s European or domestic success this season, Ronaldo’s importance to Rangnick’s side is still obvious. If United are to make a late — albeit unlikely — push for the top-four this season, goals from their no.7 will prove pivotal.

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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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