Ten Hag backs Ronaldo to reach level of last season

Erik ten Hag believes Cristiano Ronaldo can return to the level he reached last season for Manchester United if he wants.

Ronaldo scored only his third goal of the campaign on Thursday, a header that wrapped up a comfortable 3-0 Europa League win over Sheriff.

Ten Hag restored Ronaldo to his starting XI after dropping the 37-year-old for last weekend's trip to Chelsea as punishment for refusing to come on as a substitute against Tottenham.

Ronaldo was United's top scorer with 24 goals across all competitions last season but has found himself behind Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial – when fit – this term.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner is only averaging a goal every 260 minutes across all competitions, his worst such record since 2005-06 (one every 284 minutes).

Despite Ronaldo's misdemeanours under Ten Hag, the Dutchman has routinely talked up the striker's importance.

But he feels it is on Ronaldo to prove he can still be as productive as last season.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Sunday's visit of West Ham, Ten Hag said: "It's up to him, but I think when you collect all the chances he creates, the team creates for him, in the last weeks I've been here, you see he is still capable to get into the right positions.

"I know he's capable of finishing that. So, it's possible."

Indeed, finding openings has not been a problem for Ronaldo. Only Rashford (6.3) has a better expected goals (xG) tally in the United squad than Ronaldo (5.6), but the latter leads the way for xG per 90 minutes (0.65).

Ronaldo
Ronaldo

Granted, much of Ronaldo's football this term has been against seemingly lesser opposition in the Europa League, but the fact remains: he has had chances, the problem is his inability to take them, perhaps a by-product of the veteran not having much of a pre-season.

Ten Hag liked what he saw when Ronaldo and Rashford worked in tandem during the second half against Sheriff, however, hinting he sees a way of fitting both forwards into the team on a more regular basis.

"I think [against Sheriff] with Cristiano and Marcus in the attack, that worked very well. I was happy about that," the manager said.

The prolonged absence of Martial will help Ronaldo's bid for regular football and Ten Hag could not guarantee the Frenchman will be back before the break for the World Cup, though he is optimistic.

"I hope," Ten Hag said of Martial, who has scored three goals in just 133 minutes of action this term.

"He is making progress. He is outside and he's working there. So, we are waiting for his step back in team training."

Martial
Martial

Clearly, Ten Hag would regard Martial's return to be a major boost after showing highly promising flashes during his limited time on the pitch this term.

"The setback was that he fell against Everton with his back, so we had some injuries which were really frustrating for us but also for him, and we have seen him play really good in pre-season," Ten Hag said.

"He has already scored three goals, yet in Everton he also had an important role with the first goal, his assist to Antony.

"So it would be really good to have him back because he can make a difference, he can score goals, but also in linking up he is really important, and the pressing from him is really good."