Europa League provides Ronaldo's best hope for a Man United start

The prospect of slumming it in the Europa League was too much for Cristiano Ronaldo this summer… now Man United’s opener against Partizan Belgrade is his best hope of a start, in the cup he hates!

  • Cristiano Ronaldo could return to the Man United starting XI on Thursday
  • The 37-year-old has made just one start for the club under Erik ten Hag
  • Europa league tie with Real Sociedad could mark his return to the starting lineup
  • Ronaldo looked set to leave United to secure Champions League football 

All of a sudden, the very competition that convinced Cristiano Ronaldo he had to leave Manchester United is the one offering the Portugal star the best chance of a start under Erik ten Hag.

The ignominy of playing Europa League football was the primary reason given by Ronaldo for wanting to cut short his second stint at Old Trafford after just 12 months. 

Not since he was a teenager launching his professional career at Sporting has Ronaldo had to lower himself to playing on Thursday nights — a first-round tie against Partizan Belgrade in what was still the old UEFA Cup 20 years ago.

Cristiano Ronaldo could return to Manchester United’s starting XI against Real Sociedad

The prospect of slumming it in Europe’s secondary competition at the age of 37 was simply too much for a player who has been ever-present in the Champions League since then, winning it five times. 

Ronaldo wanted out of United and may well have got his wish had agent Jorge Mendes found a suitable buyer. Instead, he was left with little option but to stay after a summer spent largely on compassionate leave at home with his family in Portugal.

Ten Hag cites Ronaldo’s lack of pre-season training for putting him on the bench for five of United’s opening six games, his only start coming in the 4-0 defeat by Brentford. 

Erik ten Hag cited Ronaldo’s lack of pre-season training as the reason for the Portuguese star’s lack of starts this season

But with the United boss considering making changes for tonight’s Europa League Group E opener against Real Sociedad at Old Trafford, Ronaldo may get the start he wants in the competition he likes least.

Asked if Ronaldo can still be a starter five months short of his 38th birthday, Ten Hag said: ‘Of course — he started against Brentford. Then not since, but he is ready to start. We not only have a team, we have a squad. 

‘For players not in the team, they can at any moment come in, do the job and maybe do better than the ones who are in. You need more than 11 players to be successful.’

With Anthony Martial still not fit, Ten Hag must decide whether to recall Ronaldo and rest Marcus Rashford, who has scored three goals in four games in a central role.

After a promising pre-season, Anthony Martial has endured a sustained spell on the club’s treatment table

Ten Hag also explained that he wants to keep Marcus Rashford at the club despite ongoing rumours regarding his future

The Dutchman reiterated that he wants to keep a rejuvenated Rashford and has no concerns about the striker’s contract situation despite his representatives holding talks with Paris Saint-Germain. 

Rashford has less than 10 months remaining on his deal, but United are expected to trigger a 12-month extension before the end of the year.

Ten Hag believes the 24-year-old is more settled now, saying: ‘What I see is a happy Marcus. I see some phases in his game that we could improve, and we worked really hard the last two-and-a-half months with him on different aspects. He really likes it and wants to transfer it to the pitch. It starts with happiness.’

Real Sociedad are expected to be United’s strongest challengers in the group, but were beaten 4-0 on aggregate when the two clubs met in the knockout stage of this competition two seasons ago.

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