Plus: Nayef Aguerd can give West Ham manager David Moyes something to ponder after debut in Europa Conference League win; Arsenal were beaten 2-0 by PSV in the Europa League as Man Utd beat Sheriff Tiraspol 3-0; 18-year-old Alejandro Garnacho shone on his full debut for Man Utd
Friday 28 October 2022 11:11, UK
“It’s done. He’s back. Let’s focus on the game.”
Those were the words of Erik ten Hag when confirming Cristiano Ronaldo would return to Manchester United’s squad for Thursday’s Europa League game against Sheriff Tiraspol.
Ronaldo had been dropped for Saturday’s Premier League draw with Chelsea due to his behaviour in last week’s win over Tottenham, but he was back in the side as United looked to qualify for the knockout stage.
All eyes were on the Portuguese superstar at Old Trafford. Eventually, he delivered.
The 37-year-old had looked set to be frustrated as he missed several chances and somehow avoided a yellow card for kicking the ball away after seeing a second-half strike disallowed for offside.
But his persistence finally paid off in the 81st minute when he smashed in from close range to score the 701st goal of his extraordinary club career.
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“Back on track, with the same commitment and dedication as always,” he said on Instagram before Thursday’s match.
Ronaldo is and always has been a winner. Despite his petulance at times, he can still play a key role for Ten Hag in what is likely to be the veteran forward’s final season at United.
And he will want to bow out on a high. He has an opportunity to add a new trophy to his incredible collection. The Champions League will always be Ronaldo’s competition. At the end of May, though, the Europa League could be too.
Football fans are never blessed with bundles of optimism, and Arsenal fans will certainly be nervous after watching their side be roundly beaten by PSV on Thursday.
Let’s set the scene first – PSV away was always going to be Arsenal’s biggest test of Group A. The Dutch side are unbeaten in seven at the Philips Stadion and have only lost once there – to Rangers in their Champions League qualifier – all season.
The talent they have in their squad, while below par in London last week, is quite incredible. On Thursday, Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons looked world class. Luuk de Jong made an inspired second-half cameo, reminding everyone of his sheer class, to just pick out a few.
And much like Mikel Arteta, Ruud van Nistelrooy is proving to be as talented in management as he was on the pitch.
But you would have been forgiven for thinking Arsenal were already assured of top spot in Group A such was their lacklustre showing in the Netherlands. The Gunners are now in danger of finishing second in the group, sending them into a two-legged play-off, with Barcelona and six-time Europa League winners Sevilla already waiting.
Mistakes were made from the off. For much of the first half, Arsenal completely rode their luck, relying on some last-ditch defending, saves from the goalkeeper or PSV’s apparent inability to stay onside to keep things level.
They always looked like conceding – which they eventually did – with Mikel Arteta having made five changes from the weekend. Gradually, those that were switched out from the start began to be introduced, but did not have a huge effect on the outcome either.
After drawing against Southampton at the weekend, some will now be wondering if this is the start of an Arsenal slide after a storming start to the season. There looked to be some major disconnects in the team against PSV and ones that must be ironed out quickly.
There has been some questions marks over squad depth too. However, the starting XI on Thursday had more than enough talent to at least make the game competitive. For much of the tie, Arsenal were simply second best.
But Sunday’s match against Premier League bottom side Nottingham Forest offers the perfect opportunity to get their results back on track. Yes, Steve Cooper’s side did beat Liverpool last weekend – which will sure to be in the back of their minds – but Arsenal will be confident of getting a result.
It will set them up perfectly heading into a now-crucial match against Zurich on Thursday, which they must win to top the group and avoid adding two more tough fixtures to an already congested fixture list.
“I don’t know if it’s real or if I’m dreaming.”
Alejandro Garnacho had a night to remember after making his full Manchester United debut against Sheriff Tiraspol.
Applause rung out throughout Old Trafford when the 18-year-old was taken off at 79 minutes and again as he left the pitch at full-time. They were impressed with what they saw.
United fans are no strangers to witnessing an exciting young talent running down the wing at Old Trafford. Only 19 years ago it was Cristiano Ronaldo.
Garnacho was unpolished, but he grew into the game and eventually took it by the scruff of the neck. He was raw, missing chances to score and set up a goal, but the teenager showed something that has been largely lacking in wide areas for United this season.
The Argentine was brave in possession and willing to take on his man, often succeeding. His unpredictability caused chaos in the Sheriff defence and unlocked space in behind their low block as he showed no fear in taking the ball to the byline on his weaker left foot.
Garnacho delivered a timely reminder of all the things that Jadon Sancho’s game has been missing after taking his team-mate’s spot in the starting line-up.
His first full outing will give his manager Erik ten Hag plenty of food for thought. While it is highly unlikely he starts against West Ham on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, he’s certainly in the conversation now moving forward.
West Ham manager David Moyes will be delighted that his side maintained their 100 per cent record in this season’s Europa Conference League with a well-deserved 1-0 win over Silkeborg as it means the Scot can now crucially rest players for next week’s trip to FC Steaua Bucuresti during what is a hectic period of the season.
That clash in eastern Europe is sandwiched in between Premier League encounters at Manchester United on Super Sunday and at home to Crystal Palace the following week, so any opportunity to rest players will be gratefully taken by Moyes.
Not only was Moyes able to cast a useful glance over young midfielder Conor Coventry at the London Stadium, he was also able to give a first run-out of the season to centre-back Nayef Aguerd, their £30m summer arrival from Rennes, after a three-month layoff following an ankle injury picked up in pre-season.
While the 26-year-old Morocco international will have far harder examinations than what Silkeborg provided, he still looked the part in the heart of the Hammers defence and could even start now at Old Trafford this weekend after impressing his manager.
“I didn’t tell him he was starting until today,” said Moyes. “But he’s a good athlete and he’s in good shape. He’s not got enough match practice but the game worked out well for him.
“He passed it well, got in a few races, made a few challenges. It was a really good opening game for him.”
So all in all, the perfect night for Moyes and Co…
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