The last time Manchester United travelled to the home of fierce rivals Manchester City, Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t make the trip. The Portugal international’s absence raised eyebrows at the time, with Ralf Rangnick’s explanation doing precious little to help matters. Now, as the forward prepares to feature for the Red Devils on Sunday, it’s time to look at that story again…
Manchester United were struggling when they travelled to City on March 6, having drawn their previous two matches against Watford and Atletico Madrid.
So they certainly needed their top goalscorer when they visited the Etihad Stadium, especially when you consider they were facing the reigning, and future, Premier League champions.
When United announced their team, however, Ronaldo wasn’t in the starting XI. What’s more, he wasn’t even on the bench.
Rangnick, when quizzed on the matter before kick off, insisted his talisman was injured with a hip issue. He said: “Cristiano had some problems with his hip on Friday and since then didn’t play.”
Ronaldo had 15 goals from 30 appearances across all competitions at the time, with the veteran showing he still had his magic touch.
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But nobody was buying it. And United, without their biggest leader of them all, ended up slipping to a disappointing 4-1 defeat at the home of the enemy.
Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez bagged braces for Pep Guardiola’s side on a chastening afternoon for United, with Jadon Sancho scoring a brilliant consolation.
However, after the game, more details surrounding Ronaldo’s absence started to emerge.
The Sun published a report saying United squad members had been ‘stunned’ by the absence of the former Real Madrid and Juventus star.
And, what’s more, it was also claimed some figures were angry that Ronaldo hadn’t turned up to show his support to the rest of his team-mates.
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Instead, the 37-year-old ended up jetting off to Portugal – where he was spotted training in the days that followed.
What didn’t help matters was Ronaldo’s sister, Katia Aveiro, ‘liking’ a post on social media claiming her sibling wasn’t crocked – and had actually been dropped.
Roy Keane, who was performing punditry duties for Sky Sports that day, questioned whether Ronaldo was really injured.
“We talk about Ronaldo being a machine and very rarely getting injured… it doesn’t add up to me,” he said.
But this prompted Rangnick into responding, with the United interim boss insisting he was acting on the advice of his medical department.
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“I have to believe my medical department,” he explained.
“My doctor came to see me on Friday morning before training and told me Cristiano Ronaldo cannot train because of some problems with his hip flexor and the same was true on Saturday and that’s why he couldn’t be part of the squad.”
And he added: “What does it help if I tell you it’s frustrating?
“It’s just a fact, if players tell the doctor and the medical department that they are injured and cannot play. I have to accept it as a manager.
“I cannot force a player to play if he thinks he’s not available because he has an injury.”
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The following week, Ronaldo returned.
And he netted a fine hat-trick as the Red Devils beat Tottenham 3-2 to keep their hopes of securing European qualification alive.
Now, Ronaldo is expected to lead the line for United against City on Sunday – with the veteran having several points to prove.
He can make amends for his no-show at the Etihad last term, while also showing Guardiola why he was worth a punt back in the summer transfer window of 2021.
And Ronaldo will also be out to silence his critics, with many queuing up to slam the veteran for some underwhelming performances this season.
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