The return of the 36-year-old to Old Trafford was always going to dominate attention on and off the pitch but he is not Manchester United’s most important player this time round
Video LoadingVideo UnavailableClick to playTap to playThe video will auto-play soon8CancelPlay nowOle Gunnar Solskjaer praises Cristiano RonaldoByColin MillarDigital Sports Writer
- 04:00, 12 Sep 2021
The fanfare around the homecoming of Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford ensured Manchester United ’s 4-1 victory over Newcastle was played to the backdrop of a party atmosphere.
Fans around the ground revived their decade-old “Viva Ronaldo!” chant and the Portuguese superstar duly obliged by twice giving his side the lead in an ultimately comfortable triumph.
The 36-year-old gobbled up the opener after Magpies shot-stopper Freddie Woodman spilled Mason Greenwood’s fierce shot before restoring the lead in the second half with a powerful run and effort through the visiting goalkeeper.
The easy and natural conclusion to make is that Ronaldo – perhaps the most marketable footballer on the planet – has been swiftly restored as United’s talisman and star player.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes starred in Man United's 4-1 victory over Newcastle
Yet such is the strength and depth in United’s attacking ranks, a player who will provide the finish prowess in the final third and the mentality of a proven, multiple winner – as valuable as those assets undoubtedly are – is far from the unquestionable star of the show.
That would be ignoring Paul Pogba, who added two more assists in Saturday’s win to take his tally up to seven in the opening four Premier League matches – a remarkable achievement.
It would also be overlooking the contribution of Greenwood – the rising star whose forcefulness created Ronaldo’s opener and who failed to score in a Premier League match for the first time this season.
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This would also be omitting the injured Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani – two bona-fide star attacking Premier League players – and the newly-signed Jadon Sancho, who is still settling into his new club and will hope to mirror the elite attacking output he contributed at Borussia Dortmund.
But no, none of these players can lay claim to being United’s main star – that remains the irrepressible Bruno Fernandes.
Ronaldo’s international teammate scored the pick of the bunch on Saturday with an unstoppable piledriver for United’s third – taking his tally of Premier League goals this season up to four in four games.
The 27-year-old has scored a remarkable 44 goals in 84 United match – a record that any striker would be proud of, no less a midfielder – and has yet to taste defeat away from home in the Premier League, despite joining United 20 months ago.
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The different that Fernandes has made at the club has been enormous, from his mentality to his attacking output to his work rate and relentless pressing.
United were over 10 points behind a top four place when they signed Fernandes yet they have been consistently in the top two clubs in terms of both performances and results in the time since.
A master of penalties and free-kicks, of pulling off the unexpected, of creating space for teammates and finding them from seemingly improbable angles – there appears to be no weakness in his attacking output.
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On Saturday, his piledriver into the top corner was a reminder that he is capable of the spectacular – having come close from a halfway-line effort in the first half.
Fernandes explained on Sky Sports after the game: "It was almost perfect if we did not concede. We are really happy and the performance in general was really good.
"Newcastle are really organised, defend well but we moved the ball quick and waited for the right moment to hit them.
"It is something I am working on and today I got the chance and scored.
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"Everyone knows what Cristiano Ronaldo brought for the club and we are really happy to have him. The most important, as he will say, is the result for the team. Good players can always play well together.
"We arrived at the end (of last season) with some mistakes but did really well. There has been an improvement in the club and now it is time to take the next step."
Ronaldo is the superstar forward who will grab the headlines due to his ludicrous goal output and status that almost transcends the sport, but the combination of relentless work ethic and star quality means Fernandes is still United’s most valuable player.
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