Ronaldo spectre looms over forwards
Whether or not Anthony Martial deserved his start for Manchester United against Southampton last week was something of a moot point.
Partially due to injury, yes, but Martial had hardly warranted his place in the line-up with a clutch of hitherto impressive performances. It wasn’t a major surprise to see him struggle on the south coast and get hooked, to be replaced by Jadon Sancho, before the hour mark.
Yet neither Martial nor Sancho — nor any of the United forwards, for that matter — would have factored in the possibility of the world’s greatest striker arriving at Old Trafford before their next match. That should certainly be a shot in the arm, especially for Martial, whose prospects of regular playing time at United now look slim to nothing.
Even the likes of Sancho and Mason Greenwood, who looked shoo-ins for regular starts until Marcus Rashford’s return from injury, should be jolted by Ronaldo’s impending touch-down in Manchester. Both Englishmen should start at Wolves and they’ll be keen to show Ronaldo that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s current forwards have something about them.
It’s inevitable that Ronaldo will replace somebody when he’s fit and ready to play. The issue for the forwards is that everyone wants to play alongside Ronaldo and learn from him and nobody wants to be the man left out.
Midfield question lingers
It took a certain level of cynic to see the stunning news of Ronaldo’s return to United — a transfer development so gloriously nostalgic that logic has rightly taken a backseat — and immediately respond with a question about defensive midfield.
Yes, United are a little light in the middle of the park. Yes, that is currently exacerbated by the absence of Scott McTominay to injury, but none of that should stop people getting excited about Ronaldo.
Still, reality can bite hard and if United don’t control the midfield against Bruno Lage’s side this weekend, then questions will be asked of Solskjaer and his transfer team.
Those questions will be especially loud if Ruben Neves stars for Wolves. He’s been regularly linked with United this summer and many supporters see him as an ideal target.
Fred is certain to start, but will need to register a better display than the one he managed against Southampton.
Van de Beek role?
Solskjaer’s pre-match comments have suggested Donny van de Beek might finally play his first competitive minutes of the season at Wolverhampton.
It has been another strange few weeks for the Dutchman, who continues to be the subject of intense scrutiny for his United role so far — or lack thereof.
With both Nemanja Matic and Fred struggling at Southampton and McTominay ruled out, it would be a major worry for Van de Beek’s army of backers if he didn’t feature on Sunday afternoon.
It was said last season a few times, but is really feels like it’s now or never for the former Ajax star in a United shirt. He must capitalise on the opportunities that will surely present themselves in midfield.
For the amount of fanfare that accompanied Raphael Varane’s official unveiling as a United player before that league clash with Leeds on the opening day, his likely debut is going to get almost no publicity.
That is of course because the Frenchman’s former Real Madrid teammate Ronaldo is on his way.
And you have to think the environment is now perfectly set up for Varane to thrive in Manchester. Ahead of him, he’s got his international teammate Paul Pogba, and at the other end of the pitch, he’ll have fellow a fellow serial winner for Los Blancos.
All eyes at Wolves, however, will be on Varane’s partnership with Harry Maguire, providing Solskjaer does indeed give him a debut. Wolves have always tended to find ways to crack the United defence in recent years; this latest centre-back pairing must begin with a clean sheet.
All eyes on Cavani
Edinson Cavani is another player who might be forgiven for feeling a little like an after-thought at United after the Ronaldo transfer announcement.
From people suggesting he should give up the No.7 shirt to the returning ‘CR7’, to the suggestion that his days in a red shirt are numbered — because of the arrival of a player two years his senior.
It would be foolish, though, to suggest Cavani is finished. United rightly extended his contract by a year because they knew he had another 12 months to offer as a top striker. He’s not been involved in a matchday squad in the league yet, but there could well be a big reaction from him off the bench if he’s called upon.
It’s not just about Ronaldo, you know.