Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag could be facing a “shocker” by going back on his rules and naming Cristiano Ronaldo in his starting lineup to face Brighton on Sunday. Despite missing the majority of pre-season and angling for a move away from Old Trafford this summer, the Portuguese striker may be handed a start in the Red Devils’ Premier League opener.
Anthony Martial has been the focal point of United’s attacking trio with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho during friendlies, but a hamstring injury to the Frenchman has ruled him out of contention on Sunday and Ten Hag is facing a selection dilemma over whether to start Ronaldo.The 37-year-old has played just 45 minutes of pre-season during United’s draw with Rayo Vallecano, and the five-time Ballon d’Or winner even left Old Trafford before the final whistle blew.
Former Liverpool defender Steve Nicol believes that Ten Hag would be going back on the rules he set at the beginning of pre-season by naming Ronaldo among his starters against Brighton after the striker’s antics this summer.
The Dutch coach gave his squad five strict rules to follow or face punishment, as the Mirror revealed one of the rules was that players must be punctual to team meetings or risk being dropped from the matchday squad.
“I can’t help but think, going back to the five rules, rule number one it’s right at the top of my list: If you’re late, you’re not playing. How about if you don’t even train during pre-season with the team, you can still play?” Nicol told ESPN.
“So if you’re late you can’t play, but if you don’t even bother going to training and missing the whole pre-season you can still play? You make rules, you’re putting yourself on the line and now he has put himself right on the line Ten Hag. The fact that Martial is injured, he maybe has no choice but at the same time if he plays him, then people should start questioning him.
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“It doesn’t seem as if he’s that bothered [about Ronaldo], so now that he’s gone from Mr. Hard Guy with all his rules, but he’s not saying anything about all these players leaving. Now he’s maybe going to have to play Cristiano so his rules are all out the window, he is having an absolute shocker.”
Ronaldo is reportedly “putting the squeeze” on Ten Hag to feature against the Seagulls, after some strong training performances that will have impressed his new boss.
The former Ajax coach still has Rashford, Sancho and Anthony Elanga to call upon as forward options but may be willing to risk starting with Ronaldo as he looks to make a strong start in his new job as United manager.