Ten Hag outlines importance of winning trophies for Man Utd
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When Manchester United signed Cristiano Ronaldo for a second time back in the summer transfer window of 2021, they believed he’d be the ticket to glory. However, without realising at the time, the 37-year-old would end up stifling Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford. Now the veteran is no longer at Old Trafford though, having left by mutual consent, the Red Devils pair are operating at the peak of their powers once again – as Wednesday night’s 3-0 Carabao Cup win over Nottingham Forest proves.
United were adamant signing Ronaldo was the right decision roughly 18 months ago, having deemed a Hollywood homecoming too good to turn down.
How wrong they were.
Admittedly, the Portugal international was a shining light last term with his 24 goals across all competitions a rare positive under Ralf Rangnick and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
But Ronaldo’s return coincided with both Fernandes and Rashford suffering, with the pair stifled as the club’s season suffered blow after blow.
After a bombshell interview with Piers Morgan in November, Erik ten Hag decided to show Ronaldo the door. Since then, he’s proceeded to join Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr on a lucrative contract.
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Some at the time theorised whether his departure would trigger an upturn in form and fortune for Rashford and Fernandes, even if the former was beginning to show huge signs of improvement.
Since Ronaldo’s exit, however, the pair have gone from strength to strength. Was the 37-year-old the problem all along?
On Wednesday night, United cruised to a 3-0 victory over Nottingham Forest at the City ground with their No 10 and No 8 both on target.
So too was Wout Weghorst, who netted his first goal since being drafted in as a Ronaldo replacement earlier in the month.
And it was yet another evening that showed United, and their two talismanic figures, are both better off without Ronaldo around the place.
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Rashford now has 18 goals across all competitions, over three times as many as he managed under Rangnick and Solskjaer last term.
He’s also bagged 10 in his last 10 matches. In his manager’s words, he’s ‘unstoppable’ at present and this run is the best of his career.
Rashford is frighteningly direct, using his searing speed far more intelligently than at any point in the past.
His solo goal, which evoked memories of Ryan Giggs’ memorable effort against Arsenal back in 1999, is proof of this.
And Fernandes has been liberated, too.
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The Portugal international previously told Patrice Evra that Ronaldo wasn’t behind his goals and assists drying up during their 18 months at the club together.
But the stats don’t lie and Fernandes has returned to his best this term, managing 13 goal involvements from his last 16 games.
For the campaign, he now has nine goals and eight assists. Not bad in the slightest, considering he’s often regarded as a chaotic midfielder.
United knew at the time that getting rid of Ronaldo was a huge call. Of course it was, regardless of his interview with Morgan, given his achievements in the game.
But Rashford and Fernandes are now rejuvenated and they’ll be key as United look to win trophies this term.
Regarding Rashford, Ten Hag was full of praise for the forward after the win over Forest – dubbing him ‘unstoppable’.
“Once again, he is actually unstoppable when he is in this mood, when he is in this spirit, in this focus,” he said.
“But [he can] keep going when he keeps this focus. I know football. Football form is a thin line so don’t drop off.
“We all know he can stay there but also the team can work for him and we can bring him in such positions that he can score such goals.
“And I think as a team we improve in that aspect of the game, that our attacking game is more and more attractive, with more and more adventure, more and more movement so we have to make more investment in that because if you want to be really successful I think every team needs it.”
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