The 37-year-old didn’t start last Sunday’s loss to Brighton & Hove Albion due to a lack of fitness, following a pre-season in which Ronaldo played just 45 minutes.
But with Anthony Martial expected to be ruled out of Saturday’s encounter through injury, Erik ten Hag must decide whether to reinstate Ronaldo.
United’s No.9 picked up a hamstring problem two weeks ago and Martial was not spotted in the club’s midweek training video, nor was he seen in a gallery from a session at Carrington on Thursday.
That’s why the question of Ronaldo is so pertinent, and ahead of the trip to the Brentford Community Stadium, we assess the arguments for and against the No.7 returning to the starting XI.
Assuming Martial is out, United don’t have any other options up front other than Ronaldo, which is certainly the most obvious reason to recall him.
The former Real Madrid and Juventus star was also pictured in training this week, so his fitness should have improved, which Ten Hag cited as the main factor as to why he didn’t start against Brighton, a game that no United player scored in.
It was Alexis Mac Allister who inadvertently smashed the ball into his own net, and other than an early Bruno Fernandes chance, the Red Devils never looked like scoring.
One man who knows a thing or two about goals is Ronaldo, and he’s the ideal man to tuck away scoring opportunities, especially if they’re as scarce in West London on Saturday, as they were last weekend.
For all the issues surrounding United’s showing against Brighton, Christian Eriksen, who played as a false nine, was the team’s best player on the day.
The Dane dropped into midfield after Ronaldo came on, but United’s best spell in the game came in that opening 15 minutes, rather than in the second period following the substitution.
There was also nothing about the performance from the Portugal captain last week which signified why Ronaldo has to start against Brentford. He had just 12 touches in the 37 minutes on the pitch.
This leads to an even bigger concern surrounding Ronaldo and this United team - can he fit into Ten Hag’s system?
The evidence so far suggests no, with the former Ajax manager appearing to prefer Martial after a pre-season in which the Frenchman impressed by linking well with team-mates, pressing, and launching rapid counter-attacks. This just isn’t possible with Ronaldo in the team.
And there’s no suggestion that Ronaldo is a long-term part of this team anyway, given the uncertainty surrounding his future.
The dilemma for Ten Hag this weekend, and last, highlights how limited United’s options are up front.
There’s no denying Ronaldo isn’t the ideal forward for Ten Hag and his system, and United would benefit from moving him on this window and finding at least two suitable replacements.
But for Saturday, there’s almost no option for the Red Devils other than to start with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
The visitors in the capital will need someone who can find the back of the net, and the issues surrounding his fitness should be all but alleviated.
In fact, if Ten Hag were to leave Ronaldo out and opt again for Eriksen as a false nine, it would be a clear indication that he doesn’t see the veteran striker as part of his plans.