Cristiano Ronaldo wears all of his on-field emotions on his sleeve, and his intense reputation makes it easy to speculate that any visible dissatisfaction extends from the pitch to the team room.
But the Portuguese star is publicly pleading patience this week as Manchester United struggles to find its best self and still finds some memorable wins along the way, like its 3-2 comeback against Atalanta in the UEFA Champions League.
Ahead of perhaps his club’s most difficult and important stretch of the season — all without Raphael Varane — well, people are talking.
“The adaptation will take time, even the system of the game that we play, but I think step by step we have to put it in our mind that everything is possible,” Ronaldo tells Sky Sports ahead of Sunday’s big battle with Liverpool (start time 11:30am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).
He also thinks they can win now.
“The most important thing in football is to win stuff,” he said. “New players, new system, yes, but we have to think positive. We have to believe, be together. We have to sacrifice for the club. We have to believe high and big. I hope to be honest, to win something this year.”
But do they have the same hunger as Ronaldo? The star was asked about leading both by example and through advice.
“Players who want to learn, to be next to me, is very big,” he said. “My ethic of work is the same but at some point they have to come from inside of the players, especially the young players. I don’t mean to criticize any players. In this generation since maybe ’95, they think differently. You have to accept some points because in our generation – ’85 – it was so difficult to play for the first team with Manchester United and the national team but if you see around the world things are coming a bit easy now and they don’t appreciate a lot. This is my opinion. But to give you answer I am here to give the kids help if they want. I’m here every day but it has to come from inside of you.”
What’s Manchester United’s standard heading into massive stretch?
United is averaging 1.75 points per Premier League match this season heading into Sunday’s rivalry tilt with Liverpool, below last season’s 1.94 and just above the previous campaign’s 1.74.
And this season will tell us almost everything about Solskjaer when it’s all told… if it gets there. Man United boasts solid away wins over Wolves and West Ham, sure, but its three-match winless run against Villa (home), Everton (home), and Leicester City (away) come before it meets anyone from the traditional top six.
That changes Sunday with Liverpool at Old Trafford, with Spurs away and Man City at home next. Then it’s a brief respite to Watford away before a trip to Chelsea and visit from Arsenal.
Solskjaer’s 2021-22 Red Devils posted the second-most points in a season post-Alex Ferguson, but stumbles over the upcoming stretch will sink it to a pace worse than any other.
Manchester United points by season (table finish)
2020-21: 74 (2nd – Solskjaer)
2019-20: 66 (3rd – Solskjaer)
2018-19: 66 (6th – Mourinho / Solskjaer)
2017-18: 81 (2nd – Mourinho)
2016-17: 69 (6th – Mourinho )
2015-16: 66 (5th – Van Gaal)
2014-15: 70 (4th – Van Gaal)
2013-14: 64 (7th – Moyes/Giggs)
So is there reason to worry? Yes, plenty! But the club’s top four fortunes could swing in the next month or so, as it has the chance to hurt their direct rivals… or be damaged by them.
And in case you’re wondering about the individual as Ronaldo puts the “collective in first place,” he used a question about his international future with Portugal to lay out his awareness of his place in club history.
“You speak about Portugal but in the Champions League I have the most goals, the most wins, assists… everything,” Ronaldo said. “But I want to carry on. I like to play football. I feel good to make people happy.”