Cristiano Ronaldo marked his second Manchester United debut with two goals to inspire a 4-1 win over Newcastle United at Old Trafford.
One of United’s greatest ever players returned in style to the delight of home supporters, although Newcastle goalkeeper Freddie Woodman was complicit in both goals.
Ronaldo boosted his United tally to 120 as he pounced on a first-half error and then blasted straight through Woodman after the break, setting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men on course for the top of the Premier League table.
Newcastle had equalised through Javier Manquillo between those strikes but otherwise lacked the cutting edge that Ronaldo displayed, which was also in evidence when Bruno Fernandes and Jesse Lingard wrapped up the points late on.
United were predictably dominant from the outset and Raphael Varane headed across the face of goal, yet they were given a scare when Joe Willock stole possession from Fernandes in the home area, only to blaze over with team-mates up in support.
The moment a raucous Old Trafford crowd had been waiting for arrived on the stroke of half-time as a low Mason Greenwood strike escaped Woodman’s clutches and fell kindly for Ronaldo to slam home.
Newcastle had been growing into the game and did not allow that setback to dampen their spirits, quickly levelling in the second half when Miguel Almiron led a counter-attack and Allan Saint-Maximin slipped in Manquillo to finish.
But a United break proved every bit as efficient, with Luke Shaw carrying the ball forward and feeding Ronaldo to fire between Woodman’s legs.
David de Gea stood tall to block from Joelinton when Newcastle threatened another equaliser, but sublime finishes from Fernandes – from around 25 yards – and Lingard, skipping past Jamal Lewis in the box, made the game safe amid a party atmosphere.
What does it mean? United look like title contenders
United won the title in each of Ronaldo’s last three seasons before joining Real Madrid but have since only finished top twice. With the great number seven back on board, silverware must again be the target.
Solskjaer’s side will face tougher tasks than Newcastle at home, although beating average teams at home was an issue last term – losing to Crystal Palace and Sheffield United and drawing with Everton and Fulham.
If such upsets can be avoided this time, United should be in the mix.
Man of the moment makes no mistake
This is not the same Ronaldo that United fans were used to watching 12 years ago, now a veteran who largely stays within the confines of the penalty area… but that is just what Solskjaer’s men have been missing.
Robin van Persie, in their most recent title-winning campaign in 2012-13, was the last United player to tally 20 league goals in a season. Ronaldo reached that mark every year with Madrid and Juventus and will expect to do so once again back in England.
Woodman woes help United out
Woodman had already endured a tough start to his Premier League career, conceding eight goals in three games, but he had largely avoided blame until now. Newcastle were standing firm until he gifted Ronaldo the opener.
The one-time Under-20 World Cup winner has now conceded the most goals in the competition this term, while only two goalkeepers have saved a smaller share of the shots they have faced (45.45 per cent) or conceded more goals than expected using expected goals on target data (1.78).
United head to Young Boys in Tuesday’s early Champions League kick-off, while Newcastle are next in action three days later at home to Leeds United in the Premier League.
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