Lingard thrilled to have Ronaldo back at Man Utd
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Manchester United’s next 10 games look likely to reveal much about how Cristiano Ronaldo will really affect their title chances. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side face Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, with the Premier League clash kicking off a run of tough fixtures that could have a huge impact on the Red Devils’ silverware ambitions this season.
United will want to improve on their record against Leicester when they make the trip to the East Midlands, having lost twice to Brendan Rodgers’ side in the latter stages of last season.
But the run of fixtures that comes after that will give the Red Devils a further chance to show whether they have become genuine contenders both domestically and in the Champions League.
Saturday’s clash against Leicester is followed four days later by a home game against Atalanta, before fierce rivals Liverpool visit Old Trafford a week on Sunday. United then face Tottenham and Manchester City, with the return trip to Bergamo sandwiched in between.
A visit to Watford after the next international break looks somewhat less daunting – although the Hornets could be feeling the uplift of having new manager Claudio Ranieri in charge.
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But then it’s back to the big games, with a visit to Villarreal followed by a trip to Chelsea and a home game against Arsenal to round off November.
United’s record against the rest of the ‘Big Six’ last season wasn’t what you’d expect from a team with ambitions of challenging for the biggest prizes.
Things improved after Solskjaer’s side were thrashed 6-1 by Spurs at Old Trafford, although they went on to be beaten by Arsenal and Liverpool.
A 2-0 win away to Man City was a bright spot, but United lacked potency in 0-0 draws with Chelsea (twice), City, Liverpool and the Gunners.
Ronaldo was brought in during the summer transfer window to turn Solskjaer’s side into title contenders, and a big part of that will involve making the difference in tight games against United’s biggest rivals.
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But opinion has been divided so far on just how much of a positive influence Ronaldo is proving at United so far.
He got off to a flying start with three goals in his first two games, also scoring the last-gasp winner against Villarreal in the Champions League.
His impact was such that Solskjaer faced a fierce backlash when he rested his star man for the disappointing 1-1 draw with Everton.
On the other hand, Ronaldo’s lack of pressing has been highlighted, with Netherlands No2 Danny Blind recently claiming Solskjaer needs to have a tactical rethink if he wants to get the best out of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner while still retaining the right balance between defence and attack.
Ronaldo looks likely to start against Leicester, with the 36-year-old returning to Old Trafford off the back of four goals in two victorious games for Portugal during the international break.
Edinson Cavani is unlikely to get the nod given he is only due to fly back on Friday following his exploits with Uruguay.
But the news that he won’t have to quarantine for 10 days is a huge boost for Solskjaer as the manager looks to get the most from his attack in the coming weeks.
Mason Greenwood will be another option to lead the line should Solskjaer decide to rest Ronaldo again, with the 20-year-old likely to be fresh after a lack of international commitments.
And Marcus Rashford is also expected to return, amid hopes the 23-year-old will be able recover his best form following his recent shoulder surgery.
Whether or not he starts on Saturday, Ronaldo looks set to feature heavily in a gruelling run of heavyweight fixtures – especially if Solskjaer heeds Sir Alex Ferguson’s advice to “play your best players”.
With Paul Pogba, Jadon Sancho, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial also in the mix, the manager looks set to have his best attacking players available – but with Ronaldo leading them, the next six weeks will tell us a lot about the direction in which they are headed.
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