Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

It is not often that you see Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench – especially in a big match.

But that’s exactly what happened this morning (AEDT), when the Portuguese superstar fell on the bench for a league match for just the fourth time in the last nine seasons.

It would be one thing to steer his workload against a smaller team, but the Red Devils had risen to one of their biggest rivals, Chelsea.

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“I’m surprised,” Roy Keane said before the match.

“Ronaldo has returned to Man United to play in these matches … he is a great player for the big occasions.”

A visibly frustrated Ronaldo made a shot against the tunnel after the match as he strode past interim manager Michael Carrick.

“I do not think it should be a big deal if Cristiano Ronaldo does not start every game, or sometimes comes out,” Jamie Carragher said in the post-match coverage.

“Is a Manchester United manager not allowed to put Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench?”

Keane, however, had a different attitude when the couple were warmed up.

“There’s nothing wrong with a player being upset, but Ronaldo has not returned to Manchester United to sit on that bench, what’s the point?”

The cautious game plan worked for Manchester United as they took a point against league leaders Chelsea.

To hit Chelsea on the counter-attack, where Jadon Sancho scored his first Premier League goal, and to snatch a point is the type of injury limitation United are this season.

Grabbing a 1-1 draw – after home humiliations to Liverpool and Manchester City in the fading embers of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s reign – gives Ralf Rangnick a platform to build on.

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The German has yet to officially take charge – with a post-Brexit work permit still to be secured – but this could very well be Michael Carrick’s last act as interim deputy head.

The disappointment for United will not be holding on to the lead after Aaron Wan-Bissaka caught Thiago Silva’s heel as he cleared the ball. Jorginho equalized from a penalty kick in the 69th minute – a day before the Italian discovers whether he has won the Ballon d’Or.

Jorginho had been guilty of the United goal in the 50th minute. Failure to check with a clearing from United midfielder Bruno Fernandes’ crooked long ball allowed Jadon Sancho to take the ball. The 21-year-old striker had room to drive through on goal before slipping a shot past goalkeeper Edouard Mendy who snuck into the right post.

Sancho, who arrived in July for € 85 million ($ 134 million AUD), also reached the Champions League on Tuesday in a win over Villarreal.

Now another positive result – after losing five of its last seven league games under Solskjær – has brought United within five points of West Ham in the fourth Champions League qualifier.

“It’s not enough to draw, but at the moment, as we are, it’s a big point,” said United goalkeeper David de Gea. “In the last matches we conceded three or four goals, now we conceded one from a penalty kick and got a clean sheet against Villarreal, so I think we are improving.

“But these are two games we have to show in the games to come, like Arsenal – a big game again. Let’s continue, stay focused.”

Elsewhere, Manchester City beat West Ham 2-1 as the defending champions trimmed Chelsea’s lead at the top to a single point.

Ilkay Gundogan knocked in the City’s opening in the 33rd minute from Riyad Mahrez’s deflected crossfield ball. Fernandinho’s strike in the 90th meant that Manuel Lanzini’s dipping shot during the break would only be a consolation.

Prior to the reunion in the Merseyside derby with former club Liverpool, Rafa Benitez has gone a seventh game without a win as Everton coach.

Ivan Toney, who played under Benitez at Newcastle but struggled for playing time, scored the goal that gave Brentford a 1-0 win over Everton.

Brentford claimed a first home league victory since the opening day of the season against Arsenal in August to move up to 12th place. Everton are two places lower in the 20-team position.

Five years after so unexpectedly winning the Premier League title with Leicester, Claudio Ranieri’s mission is now to avoid relegation with Watford.

But losing 4-2 at Leicester leaves Watford two places above the relegation line with a four-point cushion. James Maddison scored a goal and delivered two assists to Jamie Vardy. Ademola Lookman also reached, as Leicester only celebrated a third victory in 10 league games to move up to a 10th place.

– with AP

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