There had been plenty of hype to justify during the previous fortnight, but Cristiano Ronaldo did not waste any time in demonstrating his substance once more.
After scoring a poacher’s double in his second Red Devils appearance, Manchester United’s homecoming Hollywood signing demonstrated his Oscar-winning timing with a goal on his homecoming.
At the age of 36, Ronaldo is largely known as a fantastic goalscorer, rather than the scorer of tremendous goals that the public was accustomed to and loved before to his departure from the team 12 years earlier.
And, owing to two errors by Newcastle goalkeeper Freddie Woodman, Ronaldo was given the opportunity to get off to a dream start – without even having to light up his former stomping ground in full.
Between Ronaldo’s two goals, Javier Manquillo pulled one back for Newcastle, but Bruno Fernandes scored a stunning long-range strike and Jesse Lingard added a late fourth to guarantee Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side finished the 90 minutes on top of the Premier League standings.
Pre-Covid mayhem had erupted in Manchester, and Old Trafford itself had been transformed into a retro scene – there had certainly not been this much enthusiasm around the stadium since Sir Alex Ferguson donned his blowpipe and slippers in 2013.
And, after all, why not? It was, without a doubt, the first time the Premier League has ever had a serious challenger for the title of football’s greatest ever player.
After winning one Champions League and one Ballon d’Or before leaving for Real Madrid in 2009, Ronaldo returned with five of each title.
The screams of ‘Viva Ronaldo!’ resounded across the city for an extended period of time.
The Toon Army erupted in pleasure as Ronaldo scuffed his effort and landed on his backside nine minutes into the game after Fernandes fired a crossfield ball that Ciaran Clark couldn’t clear with his header.
After a couple of classic Ronaldo stepovers, Sancho found himself in a position to feed the man himself, who blasted into the sidenetting.
Ronaldo’s second got United quickly back on track before they turned up the heat | Credit: Richard Pelham / The Sun
Raphael Varane missed a header from a Luke Shaw corner, while Fernando Fernandes attempted a David Beckham-esque 50-yarder that flew just over the crossbar.
Newcastle, despite having Allan Saint-Maximin causing havoc, had their moments – and they had a chance to take the lead thanks to a sloppy defensive throw-in from Shaw, which resulted in Joe Willock shooting wide when he should have centred.
But it was in first-half injury time that Ronaldo got his chance to shine. It was a classic poacher’s effort, snatching the rebound after a Mason Greenwood shot had been cruelly mishandled by Woodman.
Newcastle came out firing in the second half, and they were soon rewarded when Miguel Almiron went on a skipping run and squared for St Maximin, who sent the ball into the path of Javier Manquillo, who drilled the ball home at the far post.
Red Devils fans will be hoping Ronaldo and Fernandes can lead them to this season’s title | Credit: EPA
Paul Pogba was severely booked following what appeared to be an incidental tackle on Sean Longstaff, as Solskjaer’s men appeared to be stumbling.
In the second half, Shaw roared forward and freed Ronaldo, whose shot flew straight through Woodman, who had done more than any of the opposition players to make Ronaldo’s day unique.
Jamaal Lascelles saved Ronaldo’s attempt after Nemanja Matic led a frantic break and found him unmarked.
Joelinton beat Varane and forced a good save from David De Gea, proving that the home side was not yet out of the woods.
But ten minutes from time, Fernandes scored with a dipping, swerving 25-yard strike that his international team-mate would have been proud of.
There was then a beauty to round things out in the closing stages, with Pogba’s pass deflected into the path of Lingard who finished it with style.