Cristiano Ronaldo has been nominated for the new Castrol Game Changer award - which will be awarded to the player with the single most game-changing performance during the 2021/22 Premier League Season.
Click here to vote for your 2021/2022 Castrol Premier League Game Changer.
People openly questioned if Cristiano Ronaldo was Manchester United’s biggest problem this season, whether the club had compromised otherwise promising progress for the sake of forcing a supposed ‘has been’ into the team.
That argument quickly falls apart when looking at the number of goals, and the nature of them, that the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has scored in his first season back at the club where he first established himself as world class more than a decade ago.
Throughout the 2021/22 season, United have usually failed to win games in which Ronaldo wasn’t on the scoresheet. His goals were directly responsible for 10 of the team’s 11 points in the Champions League group stage and at one stage in March and April he had scored eight out of nine goals the team as a whole had managed.
Kicking off that run was an incredible Game Changer performance against Tottenham.
United went into that fixture off the back of an embarrassing and heavy defeat to Manchester City and were in desperate need of a result before the March international break took over.
A niggling hip injury had kept Ronaldo out of the derby defeat, but he was back to face Spurs.
What the 37-year-old’s performance showed was efficiency. It has been easy to take for granted his ability over the last two decades, but with age comes adaptation.
Ronaldo covered less ground than Tottenham counterpart Harry Kane but was a whole lot more effective. His overall xG for the game came in at 0.91, yet he walked away with the match ball under his arm – only his second ever Premier League hat-trick at that time.
It took only 12 minutes for Ronaldo to open the scoring, unleashing a rasping shot into the top corner from 25 yards out when Spurs made the mistake of giving him time and space.
With defensive weakness seeing United unable to hold onto the lead at the other end, Ronaldo kept pushing his team back in front. His second goal showcased brilliant awareness, thinking two moves ahead of the defenders as he burst through the middle when the ball was played wide down the line, making sure he was positioned for an easy tap-in as it made its way into the six-yard box.
Already two very different types of goals, Ronaldo’s third was a towering header from a corner that any old fashioned ‘number nine’ from decades gone by would be proud of. United had again relinquished their lead, only for the Portuguese to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Ronaldo pulled off the back of Cristian Romero and leapt early, which meant Matt Doherty had no chance of reacting in time and challenging him. The strength of the United star also ensured that Doherty’s struggling attempt to knock him off balance did nothing of the sort.
Ronaldo was locked onto his target and once he rose to meet the ball there was nowhere else it was going to end up than in the back of the net. What’s more, the late hat-trick goal finally broke the Spurs resilience as the game entered its final stages and United gratefully clung on for a 3-2 win.