Early winner: Man Utd’s greatest problem, Cristiano Ronaldo

Date published: Saturday 12th March 2022 8:12 - Ian Watson

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his hat-trick for Man Utd.

Cristiano Ronaldo would be some player if only he would chase a bit more, wouldn’t he? Ah, well. Manchester United will just have to make do with their centre-forward being the world’s greatest ever goalscorer.

But still, people – clever people, some of them – will insist that Ronaldo remains one of United’s biggest problems. Some will tell you he’s their biggest problem.

Him. Their top scorer. The Premier League’s second-highest scorer this season. The lad with 807 career goals.

Not their shaky defence, a backline being led by a lad having a season-long existential crisis; nor a midfield so passive and off-the-pace it beggars belief. It’s not the local boy on the wing doing wonderful things off the pitch but almost nothing on it. Or a South American forward who apparently can’t be arsed with away games.

Ralf Rangnick has many problems, most of which he appears bereft of ideas how to solve. But we really must put to bed the notion that Ronaldo is one of them.

Where would United be this season without the 37-year-old? Out of the Champions League and a lot further from returning there next season than they already are.

Had they failed to beat Tottenham at Old Trafford, that would probably have extinguished their realistic top four hopes. Fortunately, after missing last weekend’s derby humiliation for whatever reason you might believe, Ronaldo returned from the Portuguese sunshine to reignite United’s hopes of achieving the bare minimum.

His second hat-trick as a United player, trebles 14 years apart, earned the Red Devils a victory they barely deserved, but neither did Spurs. A point apiece would have been fair reward for two sides who can’t be trusted to bring anything other than inconsistency and frustration.

Ronaldo’s first goal was a sublime long-range strike which even with Hugo Lloris’s tendency to stay close to his line gave the Spurs keeper no chance. Lloris could have been stood in the car park – he wouldn’t have got a glove on the ball.

Lloris might question Eric Dier’s reluctance to close down Ronaldo – Antonio Conte certainly will – and Spurs will be fuming with the manner of United’s second goal, finished by the No.7 after Jadon Sancho sprang an offside trap apparently set too late for Sergio Reguilon to realise what was going on.

Spurs can hardly say they were unfortunate. Their goals came from a penalty and an own-goal by Harry Maguire, who was trying to deny the offside Cristian Romero a tap-in.

Romero gave it the big one, and if Maguire was not so utterly ridden with self-doubt, the Spurs defender might have got something in return other than the glance of a broken man.

That no United player sought out Romero for immediate retribution for his sh*thousery says something of the character in the home dressing room. But karma was quicker to find the Spurs defender when Romero couldn’t find Ronaldo at a corner just nine minutes later.

Hat-trick complete, victory sealed and fourth place reclaimed, even if Arsenal have four games in hand to make up a two-point deficit. Like United and Spurs, though, few would bank on the Gunners to avoid calamity between now and the end of the season, with the race for fourth long-since having become a tallest-dwarf competition.

That United are still in the running is because of Ronaldo, certainly not in spite of him.

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