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Why Manchester United are better without Cristiano Ronaldo

United’s midfield and forward players benefit from a more mobile attack.

Marcus Rashford y Bruno Fernandes, jugadores del Manchester United, celebran un gol.
Martin Rickett - PA ImagesGetty

“Manchester United are a better attacking unit when Cristiano Ronaldo is not in the team”. The Manchester Evening News was clear and direct Although the veteran forward continues to get minutes at Old Trafford - he has started and played all 90 minutes in four of the team’s last five games - his departure from Old Trafford is still a possibility.

Ronaldo is detrimental to his team-mates. Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Alejandro Garnacho, Antony and Jadon Sancho have all played better this season when part of an attack that plays in transitions and links up well.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Manchester United at Villa Park on November 6, 2022.
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Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Manchester United at Villa Park on November 6, 2022.VisionhausGetty

Ronaldo’s negative impact

The Manchester Evening News show the data behind Ronaldo’s negative impact on the team. The former Real Madrid forward has started 10 of the 16 games he has played so far this season. In those games, in which Ronaldo has started, United have scored 12 goals. However, in the other eight games in which he has not started, Erik ten Hag’s side have added 15 goals to their tally. In other words, United are more effective when Ronaldo starts on the bench.

In United’s Carabao Cup match against Aston Villa on Thursday, four players from the list above were involved in the 4-2 win. The goals came from Anthony, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay, and Alejandro Garnacho grabbed a brace of assists.

While the drastic reduction in minutes compared to last season has had an impact on his goalscoring record, Ronaldo has just three goals (and two assists) in 16 games. Ronaldo’s 24 goals in 38 appearances in 2021-22 were crucial to United’s European qualification, but the Mancunians have not only learned to live without his goals, his team-mates have found more joy without the Portuguese.

Ten Hag makes changes

Ronaldo’s status within the squad is not the only thing that has changed with the arrival of Ten Hag at Old Trafford. The club’s intended facelift, for which the former Ajax boss has been recruited, starts with the smallest details. After the game against Villa, Rashford said: “The reason we came out early was that the team talk was over and everyone was ready to come back out for the second half. It’s good to keep that energy, from what he tells us at half-time, and take it into the game.”

United’s players have been coming out for second halves early. Ten Hag’s message to his players at half-time is shorter, but also clearer. “When you sit in the dressing room for five more minutes, (the message) can get a little bit muted,” the England international added after the match against the Villans.