If you didn’t think Cristiano Ronaldo was leaving Manchester United before the Manchester derby, you probably do now.
Ronaldo didn’t bother to hide his rage as Fred came on in the 70th minute to replace Jadon Sancho, becoming United’s fifth and final replacement of the game. Given the circumstances, he was reasonably enraged that Erik ten Hag had used all of his allotted substitutes and yet chose to leave him on the bench.
The match, and any possibility of a United comeback, was done with the Reds down 5-1 at the time. Even yet, the decision by United manager Jose Mourinho to leave the Portuguese on the bench felt important. Ronaldo has only started three games this season, so it’s no surprise that he wasn’t named to the starting lineup versus City, but with the Reds desperate for a goal, his services were still unnecessary.
In all honesty, the 188th Manchester derby was insane. The scoreline undoubtedly favored the Reds, and City did take their foot off the throttle, but United did salvage some credit near the end of the game.
Both Erling Haaland and Phil Foden, who has had persistent support from their boss, scored hat-tricks for the reigning champions. Pep Guardiola’s players were brilliant throughout, and the Reds battled to keep up. Antony’s amazing score and Anthony Martial’s brace gave United fans something to cheer about, but it was a frustrating afternoon overall.
Victor Lindelof came in in the first half to replace the injured Raphael Varane, and Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Casemiro, and Fred came on in the second. With Martial having only made one competitive appearance this season before the derby, bringing him on ahead of Ronaldo was obviously a risk.
Ronaldo has made no secret of his intention to quit Manchester United this summer, with the 37-year-old desperate to play Champions League football.
Several former players and analysts argued that Ten Hag should have let Ronaldo leave the club during the transfer window, but the Dutchman insisted that the veteran forward was still part of his plans. Given the scoreline, it is reasonable to assume that the ex-Ajax manager, who has used Ronaldo as an impact replacement this season, would have at least started him versus City.
Ten Hag explained why he didn’t bring on the Portugal international, saying it was partly “out of respect for his career” – a surprising and perplexing reply.
“I wouldn’t bring him in because I respect Cristiano, for his enormous career, and the second thing was the advantage I could offer Anthony Martial, he needs the minutes but I don’t want to point that out,” the Dutchman explained.
Ronaldo, a five-time Champions League winner and five-time Ballon d’Or winner, has not been subjected to significant thrashings in his career, with the exception of Brentford. His relationship with the club has clearly deteriorated in recent months, but he and many others would have expected him to play against City.
While it would be unjust to call Ten Hag’s reasons for leaving Ronaldo on the bench into question, his respect for his career should have seen the striker introduced in the first half rather than not at all. With speculations claiming that the 37-year-old is poised to leave Old Trafford in January, his final few months at the club appear to be moving in one direction and one route only.
To his credit, Martial had a beneficial influence on his comeback from injury. The Frenchman had a great pre-season campaign and will have been eager to get started and restart his United career. On the other side, Ronaldo, the club’s leading goalscorer last season, did not appear in the pre-season and his season has not started well.
Although the veteran striker has appeared slow in his limited appearances this season, he has scored nearly 700 club goals in his long career and could have made an impact versus City.
Ten Hag has gotten a lot of things right since his summer arrival at Old Trafford, but leaving Ronaldo on the bench was a bold move. It’s unclear whether it would have made a difference, but it demonstrated that the Dutchman is unwilling to compromise on fundamental beliefs regardless of the circumstances.