KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to make his second debut for Manchester United on Saturday afternoon against Newcastle in front of a capacity 75 000 crowd at Old Trafford.
The weight of expectation is immense though whether he will start or make a dramatic appearance from the substitutes’ bench is up to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Either way, Ronaldo will be expected to add to his ‘old’ total of 84 goals in 196 Premier League appearances, to bring a new cutting edge to United’s attack, to make chance-creation easier for the midfielders and ease the pressure on his defenders by out-scoring the opposition.
That was how it worked in his last season at the club. In 2008-09 United won the Premier League by four points from Liverpool and assured themselves of the title with three games to spare by defeating Manchester City at Old Trafford by 2-0. Ronaldo scored the first goal, his last for the club.
Ronaldo had cost £12m from Sporting Clube after amazing United’s own players with his skill and precocity in a pre-season friendly in Lisbon. In six seasons he scored 117 goals in 290 appearances in all competitions.
He is still going strong at 36. Ronaldo was Serie A’s 29-goal top scorer for Juventus last season then won the Euro 2020 Golden Boot.
Newcastle, under ex-United captain Steve Bruce, were worried about the Old Trafford trip even before United signed Ronaldo.
They are without a win this season after one draw and two defeats. They are also among Ronaldo’s favourite opponents. He played against them 11 times for United, scoring six goals and providing five assists. United won 10 of those matches, drawing the other.
The last time Ronaldo faced Newcastle at Old Trafford, in December 2008, he scored his first United hat-trick in a 6:0 victory.
Ronaldo will want to start on Saturday and will be fit enough after scoring twice for Portugal last week. But he will have had only one day to train with his new teammates after international duty and a five-day quarantine isolation.
If he appears ‘only’ in an inevitably dramatic substitution then his first start could be against Young Boys in Bern in the Champions League next Tuesday.