Gary Neville believes that the 5-3-2 formation which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deployed in Manchester United’s 3-0 victory away to Tottenham brings the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo.
United were in need of a significant boost following the humiliating 5-0 defeat to Liverpool last weekend, during which Ronaldo was often left isolated.
Solskjaer, who has faced much speculation about his future, opted to deploy Edinson Cavani up front alongside Ronaldo and the decision proved to be an inspired one, with both players getting on the scoresheet before substitute Marcus Rashford added a third goal.
Gary Neville feels Cristiano Ronaldo is well suited to Manchester United’s 5-3-2 formation
Neville stated that Ronaldo was much improved following his struggles in the loss to Liverpool
The result saw United move up to fifth place but Neville insisted that there is still much work to do and expressed frustration with the fact that it took Solskjaer so long to find the correct formula.
Speaking on Sky Sports, Neville said: ‘I’m stunned it’s taken six, seven, eight weeks of bad performances, inept attitude to defending without the ball, and why has it taken the manager to be on the brink of the sack and the 5-0 defeat to Liverpool to get into shape. I don’t know why it’s taken so long but they’ve certainly done something today; work hard as a team without the ball.
‘I’ve not liked the body language in the last three or four games. The manager not looking like he can impact them. It looks like something’s happened this week where they have come together.
‘It’s proved today they can put some sort of performance together. Why did United think they could press Liverpool? Today was a decent start but it doesn’t let anybody off the hook. They’ve got games against Atalanta and City.’
Neville questioned why it took Ole Gunnar Solskjaer so long to change his team’s tactics
There were concerns that when Ronaldo was deployed up front on his own it had a detrimental effect on the team defensively due to his lack of pressing.
However, switching to a two-man attack appears to be the way forward for United, while Raphael Varane, who returned from injury, slotted in well as part of a back three.
Ronaldo’s goal against Tottenham, which put United ahead, was of a very high standard as he scored with a volley at the far post. He then set up Cavani to make it 2-0.
Neville continued: ‘Varane did that job well today. I thought it made the midfield players more confident to press. The big difference is Cavani and Ronaldo being closer to the midfield. There’s been a massive change this week. Why has it taken really bad performances to get to that point?’.
Ronaldo endured a frustrating time against Liverpool but responded well against Tottenham
Neville dismissed suggestions that Ronaldo should be left out for some matches and stated that the Portugal international seemed far happier against Tottenham as opposed to the game against Liverpool, when ‘he looked like a little boy.’
He said: ‘If you have someone like Ronaldo in the dressing room you have to get him in the team.
‘Leaving Sancho, Greenwood and Rashford on the bench is not the plan. He’s played 4-2-3-1 the last seven matches, but the change in system did suit Ronaldo. Seeing him on his own up front against Liverpool, he looked like a little boy.’
Jadon Sancho, meanwhile, has had a difficult time since joining United from Borussia Dortmund and the winger was an unused substitute against Tottenham.
Edinson Cavani (R) linked up well with Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes (L) also made an impact
Neville warned the 21-year-old that he could end up like Donny van de Beek, who has been on the periphery of proceedings since joining United.
Neville said: ‘I can’t help thinking about van de Beek. Sancho, if he’s not careful, he’s going to end up exactly the same.
He’s come into a club that’s looked completely disjointed.
‘There’s no organisation, there’s no structure. He’s actually putting a shift in. He must be sitting on that bench, thinking where’s my career at Manchester United?’.’
Neville warned Jadon Sancho he could end up like Donny van de Beek with a lack of game time
Solskjaer will have to manage his top players carefully ahead of the Manchester derby
It is a significant week for United, with the Champions League away to Atalanta on Tuesday followed by the Manchester derby at Old Trafford four days later.
Neville was eager to point out that, despite their victory against Tottenham, United still have much work to do in order to turn their overall situation around.
Solskjaer will have to make good use of his squad against Atalanta and ensure that he has his best team ready to face City.
Neville said: ‘He’s not going to be able to play that team in all three games, but he’s got Rashford, he’s got Greenwood. Lingard can come into the system. He’s got to pick his team for City first and get at least a point in Atalanta. The City game has got alarm bells. They’ve got to prepare for that but make sure they treat Atalanta with respect.’