Cristiano Ronaldo was handed his second Manchester United debut after he was named in their starting XI for Saturday’s visit of Newcastle United.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner completed his return to the club when he arrived from Juventus two weeks ago for an initial fee of £12.9million (€15m/$17.7m) on a two-year deal with the option of a third.
After being granted permission to leave Portugal duty early and then serving a period of isolation, Ronaldo reported to United’s training ground for the first time on Tuesday.
He began training with his new teammates the next day and is now set to play his first Premier League game since May 2009 – the longest gap between appearances in the competition’s history.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed on Friday that Ronaldo would at the very least play as a substitute, but with Edinson Cavani – who allowed the Portugal captain to take over the number seven jersey – absent, the 36-year-old starting seemed inevitable.
Ronaldo scored 118 goals in 292 games in his first spell at United, which lasted for six years before he joined Real Madrid in 2009.
Despite that return in front of goal, the Portugal captain scored just one hat-trick across that previous stint – coincidentally, that came against Saturday’s opponents Newcastle in January 2008.
It is fair to say Ronaldo made a habit of trebles in the 12 years after leaving Old Trafford, plundering 44 at Real Madrid and three for Juventus – long-time rival Lionel Messi has 46 since the Sporting CP product’s first club hat-trick.
Of course, Ronaldo’s reliability from the penalty spot has helped his goals tally, with his 84 spot-kicks since August 2009 being 31 more than any other player (Messi, 53) across the top five European leagues.
That could impact Bruno Fernandes’ numbers, given he has been United’s regular taker since joining from Sporting last year, missing just one of 22 attempts.
Nevertheless, United fans will be eager to see the two Portugal team-mates link up for the first time at club level, and Fernandes will be the main danger supporting Ronaldo in attack, while the in-form Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho can provide threat from the flanks.
t from the flanks.