Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag will likely have to face questions regarding captain Harry Maguire this week, with the out-of-form defender having continued his recent slump while on England duty.
The 29-year-old produced a few nervy moments in the Three Lions’ defeat to Italy on Friday – bizarrely turning the ball away for a corner at one stage – before grabbing the headlines for all the wrong reasons against Germany last night, having given away a penalty and squandered possession in the build-up to another goal in what was an entertaining 3-3 draw.
The £80m man is rightly being scrutinised for his dismal form for both club and country – having not started a league game for United since the horror show at Brentford over a month ago – although he is not the only member of Ten Hag’s squad under the microscope, with teammate Cristiano Ronaldo also failing to fire at present.
The Portugal talisman was notably ‘off the pace’, as The Athletic’s Dan Sheldon wrote, during his nation’s 4-0 triumph over the Czech Republic on Saturday evening, spurning a number of chances and also giving away a spot-kick for a handball in the first half.
While the iconic 37-year-old did register an assist late on for Liverpool’s Diogo Jota, that was as a result of a wayward attempted header, with little going right on a night in which the former Real Madrid man also suffered a blow to the face following a collision with opposition stopper, Tomas Vaclik.
As club teammates Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Dalot got themselves on the scoresheet – the latter man bagging a brilliance brace – Ronaldo was left looking something of a spare part, with his 90-minute outing having been a “microcosm” of his season thus far, as Sheldon suggested on Twitter.
The £515k-per-week superstar has failed to catch fire this season after previously netting 24 goals in all competitions following his return to Old Trafford last term, with his solitary effort so far having come from the penalty spot against FC Sheriff in the Europa League.
The £18m-rated genius has largely been restricted to the substitutes bench in recent weeks under Ten Hag, with his latest outing for his country having done little to stamp his claim for a regular role under the Dutchman once club action resumes this weekend.
The concern for the former Ajax boss will be that with rivals Manchester City to come on Sunday, there is a potential lack of centre-forward alternatives to that of the Portuguese marksman, with both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial having been injured of late.
Although club legend Jaap Stam suggested Ronaldo could prove to be a “problem” if he remains shackled to the bench, there may also be growing concern as to whether he is sharp enough to lead the line in Ten Hag’s system, having somewhat looked his age in recent weeks.
That is showcased by the fact that the veteran forward notably has an average match rating of just 6.72 so far this term in the Premier League, as per SofaScore, with that only the 13th best in the United squad – a far cry from having led the way last season.
A lack of a pre-season may not have helped matters for the former Juventus poacher, although fears may well be growing as to whether this is simply a blip for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, or the sign of a truly great force beginning to fade.
It would be no real surprise to see Ronaldo sparkle against Spain this evening and prove the doubters wrong, although on recent evidence his current rut may well continue.