ten Hag coy on if Ronaldo will keep Man Utd starting spot
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With Jadon Sancho ill, and Antony and Anthony Martial not fit, it appears Cristiano Ronaldo will lead the line for Manchester United against Real Sociedad this evening. Should that happen, it will be the 37-year-old’s third start in a row – having featured against Sheriff and West Ham previously. And with Erik ten Hag hoping the veteran can be his own Eric Cantona, the onus will be on him to fire them to the victory they crave.
Manchester United will go into tonight’s clash with Real Sociedad knowing they must win by two clear goals to top the group.
And with Sancho, Martial and Antony all unavailable for selection, it seems as though Ronaldo will start the match up top.
The Portugal international’s time at the club looked to be over when he refused to come on in the 2-0 victory over Tottenham last month, much to the anger of Ten Hag and his coaching staff.
But Ronaldo has apologised and knuckled down to show that, even if he enters the twilight years of his career, he has much to offer.
Ronaldo was on target in the club’s last Europa League match, scoring the last goal of the game as they beat Sheriff 3-0 – with Diogo Dalot and Marcus Rashford also netting.
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And the stage now seems set for him to haunt Sociedad, who he previously scored 15 goals against during his time in Spain with Real Madrid.
It recently emerged that Ten Hag, at the start of the season, thought Ronaldo could be his very own version of Cantona.
Though Cantona wasn’t as deadly at the end of his career as he was in his prime, the Frenchman still acted as a role model for his team-mates – and a player capable of inspiring them when needed.
Ten Hag feels Ronaldo can have a similar impact at the club, even though the former Juventus and Real Madrid star isn’t scoring with the same frequency of old.
So, now, this will offer the veteran his biggest chance of redemption yet.
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United must win by two clear goals in San Sebastian to ensure they top their group and avoid a potentially tricky play-off in the next round of the competition.
If they fail, a challenging contest against the likes of Barcelona, Juventus or Ajax could beckon.
There may even be a return to Sporting Lisbon for Ronaldo, too, with the United star previously rising through the ranks over in his homeland.
But United will want to win to ensure they get a far easier tie.
Ronaldo is expected to start up top in the showdown, with Rashford and potentially Alejandro Garnacho then played alongside him.
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And this is now his golden chance to show Ten Hag he can be the club’s very own Cantona, at a time where the uncertainty over his future is refusing to go away.
Ten Hag was asked about Ronaldo at his pre-match press conference on Wednesday – and expressed a belief he’d be a threat to ‘every defender’ if picked from the start.
“First of all, to talk about his feelings, you have to ask him, not me,” the 52-year-old said when quizzed on Ronaldo’s state of mind at present.
“But he is really professional, he’s in the group, he’s an important part of this group.
“He’s a leader type and as you know in Spain, he’s a threat to every defence and you always have to keep an eye on him because every gap he will use.”
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This will be the fifth meeting between United and Sociedad.
They lost 1-0 earlier in the season on September 8 – the same night Queen Elizabeth II passed away.
Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United won 4-0 away before drawing 0-0 at home in the second leg.
And, under David Moyes, the Red Devils both won and drew against this evening’s opponents.
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