Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag believes Cristiano Ronaldo is still capable of scoring over 20 goals a season despite limiting the 37-year-old’s game time so far this season.
Ronaldo was dropped from the United squad for last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea after refusing to come on as a substitute four days previously in a 2-0 win over Tottenham.
The performance against Spurs was hailed as the best of Ten Hag’s reign so far and further evidence that United are a better team without the presence of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
But Ronaldo made a goalscoring return to the starting line-up for Thursday’s 3-0 Europa League win over Sheriff Tiraspol.
The Portuguese now has three goals in 13 appearances in all competitions this season.
But Ten Hag did not rule out the prospect of him matching his 24 goals last season.
“It’s up to him,” said Ten Hag. “But I think when you collect all the chances he creates, the team creates for him in the last weeks, you see he’s still capable to get in the right positions and I know he’s still capable of finishing them so it’s possible.”
Ronaldo has made just two Premier League starts under Ten Hag with the vast majority of his minutes coming in the Europa League.
But the former Ajax boss rejected the suggestion he is using Europe’s second-tier competition as a way of giving Ronaldo the time on the pitch he craves.
“I don’t have a Europe team and I don’t have a Premier League team,” Ten Hag added.
“I look to the opponent, what we need against such opponent. Now I have to focus on West Ham United for Sunday.
“Then we will pick the team to start but also to have plan B or plan C in the pocket to win that game.
“That’s what we need finally, to win games, and therefore we not only need 11 players, we need the whole squad.”
After a disastrous start to his time in charge, there have been positive signs of United’s improvement under Ten Hag in recent weeks.
But they have often failed to make their dominance of the game count in the scoreline in a run of two wins from their last five league games.
“To develop the team takes time,” said Ten Hag. “You can’t go from zero to 100.
“You have to construct it from downstairs – you need the foundation before you go to the top, to the roof.
“Unfortunately it takes time and I don’t have time. I’m really the most impatient, but I have to be. It’s quite clear.
“Now we have to do also more on developing our attacking game but also that’s the most difficult part so it takes even more time.”
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