Cristiano Ronaldo’s Red Hot Term in Manchester

How do we feel about a series? Yeah, I agree, let’s do it. This will follow on from the theme of my most recent ZICOBALL article, focusing on the best Premier League seasons ever, namely Luís Suarez and his majestic 2013/14 season. Today, it’s time for Cristiano Ronaldo and his relentless 2007/08 season.

Ronaldo had established himself as a world-class player in 2007, scoring 23 goals and assisting a further 21. This, combined with his fantastic direct dribbling, two-footedness, top-level wing-play, and his contributions towards Manchester United winning the Premier League for the first time since 2003, resulted in him placing second in the Balon d’Or standings. It was a season summed up in one sequence; when he picked up the ball on the halfway line against Fulham, took it past four players, and buried the finish past the keeper. It was a massive goal in the title race, a clutch goal, and was reflective on Ronaldo and his growth into one of the world’s best. Wonderful to watch for one, but that wasn’t all…

Much like Suarez, it was a crescendo of sorts, rising in quality. This was just the warm-up.

In the 2007/08 season, he took it up a level. He plundered 42 goals, just two strikes shy of his complete goal contribution tally the season prior, as he contributed eight assists. His transformation from a tricky, show pony winger in 2004, to a devastating, ruthless forward, was complete.

His most used position this season was as a right-winger, as part of what was a trident with Wayne Rooney and one of the summer signings in Carlos Tevez and Nani, who would often occupy the third spot in the front line.

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Manchester United in this season were remarkably successful, winning the League title for the 17th time, just one behind arch-rivals Liverpool. United also earned the club’s third European Cup title, beating Chelsea on a rainy night in Moscow.

The Portuguese winger was impressively integral in the club’s success. He scored 31 goals in the league, matching the then-record set by Alan Shearer, and would later be matched by Luís Suarez.

His League form was not to overshadow his outstanding displays in Europe, scoring 8 goals. The level of output, alongside his otherworldly overall game; ball striking, ambidexterity, crossing, dribbling, and even his aerial ability among other things, made him one of the most complete forwards around. In the process, he firmly established himself as the best player on the planet in 2008.

The United winger’s influence on the team was dumbfounding. Whether he was flying at either full-back due to his versatility, running at centrally based midfielders and defenders, scoring glancing headers, setting up teammates, finishing with either foot, Cristiano did it all. His overall numbers had a striking influence on the team. Out of the 109 goals Manchester United scored in all competitions this season, Ronaldo had a direct hand in 50 of them, giving him a goal and assist influence on 46% of his side’s goals. That is a staggering number. Nearly half of the goals scored by Manchester United can be attributed to the Portuguese winger. A ratio of 0.86 goals per game was held by the forward for the season.

His partnership with Rooney was also a major highlight, linking up several times in front of goal. That being said, no matter how good Manchester United was as a team that season, there is no denying one fact. All year, it was the Cristiano Ronaldo show, and boy did he deliver, on more than a few occasions. Let’s revisit some, shall we?

The genius

The first game to revisit played out on March 29th. A 4-0 drubbing of 7th placed Aston Villa. United were top of the league and having turned over the Birmingham-based side 4-1 in late October, Villa seeked revenge. United gave them anything but. Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in a ruthless mood.

United started out in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick as the double pivot screening the back four, with the three behind Carlos Tevez being Ryan Giggs from the left, Wayne Rooney in the 10, and of course, Ronaldo on the right.

Straight from the off, however, the fluid flexibility United had in attack throughout the season was visible. Ronaldo did his regular switch-hitting of attacking from both sides, as he attacked both full-backs with regularity. His directness and raw pace had defenders back-pedalling constantly, giving him more and more room to run at the defence; a constant threat.

At times, he would even pick up the ball in centre-field and maraud through a swarm of defenders. Ronaldo was in the mood, and he was not letting up.

His typically vain showboating to beat players and draw fouls was on show as well. Cristiano wanted blood today.

Ronaldo was directly involved in all four goals in the win. A goal and three assists, he was mesmeric. The third assist was a relatively simple one in all honesty, and for that reason, let’s start there. Ronaldo, for one of the few times tonight, lost the ball. Showing his unrelenting desire to win, he badgered Gareth Barry into giving the ball straight to Ryan Giggs. Giggs fed Tevez, who in turn gave it to Ronaldo, who put it on a platter for Rooney to wrap in a finish at the near post.

His first assist was a lovely team goal. A period of several passes around the Villa box, from side to side, shifting the defence. Rooney put the ball to the metronomic Paul Scholes, who laid it off for Ronaldo on the right-hand side to perfectly whip it in first time. Was he ever messing up the cross? Absolutely not. It dropped straight onto the head of the Argentine, Tevez, who planted the header into the goal. Two simple assists for Ronaldo whose presence was evident all game.

His second assist was the jaw-dropper. So far, it was via lovely teamwork to set up the chances, but this one, while still easy on the eye, it needed the genius that only certain players could conjure. It was an excellent move so far. Scholes had given Giggs the ball, and due to a run on the outside by left-back Patrice Evra, Giggs was afforded a little room. With this room, in came a lovely line-breaking pass to Ronaldo, but from here it was tough. The defender was touch-tight to his back, and he needed support if he was going to set someone up to take the reigns.

Well, that’s what the football textbook says. Ronaldo didn’t read it. The winger waited for the ball to come to him, and with a little change of body position, he made it possible to try something out of the ordinary, which was executed with a lovely flick through to Wayne Rooney, who finished with aplomb. It was an incredible sequence of play, with an ingenious final ball from Ronaldo to set up a teammate, just showing the world he can be more than a goalscorer.

Now, the goal. I know I called him genius a little earlier. But the goal against Villa was just that. The pure impudence on display. It was genius. The quick-thinking to improvise and change his thinking on the fly was fantastic.

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It was a simple corner dropped in by Ryan Giggs. The ball wasn’t the greatest, but it caused confusion in the Villa box. The ball bounced around, dropped off Ronaldo’s knee and fell a little behind him. It wasn’t available for a shot, but Ronaldo, being the instinctive goalscorer he is, flicked the ball at a high rate as it flew into the net evading several bodies in the crowded box. It was a stunning show of smarts from the best player in the world. Cristiano Ronaldo was flying like a vulture swooping to devour its meal. Villa had been beaten by a bigger margin than when United beat Derby County.

The Monster

It was a cold January evening, and with a win, United would go to the top of the pile in their quest for a 17th league title. Portsmouth were the opposition. United lined up in their typical 4-2-3-1, with Scholes and Carrick the pivot in midfield. Ji-Sung Park occupied the space behind Rooney, with Nani and Ronaldo on either side.

As usual with the United forward line, there was plenty of fluidity and movement between the three. Nani and Ronaldo, in particular, took turns to swap wings to keep the defence on its toes.

Ronaldo especially, as you would expect, was spellbinding. He would drop central several times through the game to pick up spaces. There was even one moment where he picked up the ball, spun the defender and took it past two more, before feeding Park.

He would dance on the wings, looking for any chance to create separation for a shot. He did the same in centre-field, just looking for a sliver of daylight to fly away from his markers. He was a threat to them the entire game. Pompey just couldn’t deal with him.

Whether it was left, right, or through the middle, or anywhere in fact. Whether it was his slick one-twos, or extraordinary wing play to cross the ball, Ronaldo was fantastic. And his goals were just as marvellous.

The first goal was a simple direct pass to Ronaldo’s chest in the left channel. He bumped the ball down for Nani, who played a wonderfully weighted through ball over the top of the defence for the ever-sharp Ronaldo.

He had left the defenders trailing, and there was no chance they were catching him. Ronaldo took the ball down and out came David James to close down the angle. Ronaldo had a choice; dink it over him, take it around him and score into an empty net, or side foot it. Of course, he took the harder and final option. He can never do things the easy way, can he? He passed the ball into the net, and inside just 10 minutes, Manchester United were top and on their way to yet another win.

The second though; oh my word. Cristiano Ronaldo left us all shocked on many occasions, more than I can remember, especially with his free kicks. His stunning 45-yard screamer against Arsenal in 2009, his 35-yarder against Lyon, or even his 20-yard effort against Bayern Munich. But this one, this might just take the crown as his best.

He, of course, won the free-kick. It was around 30 yards out, no mean feat. He placed the ball down on the turf, ready to unleash. Wayne Rooney stood over it with him, but we all knew who was going to take this.

Ronaldo stepped up and lashed the ball which arrowed into the right-hand corner. It was as if time stood still. Nobody moved as the ball flew into the top corner, including the onlooking David James.

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The ball stuck itself in the corner, and Ronaldo turned around to let out a bellowing scream and celebration filled with emotion. The perfect free-kick had been taken, and it was hard to believe it would ever be toppled.

Truly, it was sublime what we had just seen. It was symbolic of the metamorphosis Ronaldo had undergone, and my lord was it magnificent.

The Masterpiece

January 12th. Another game where if United won, they would go top of the table. There are other games I could mention. The Champions League final with his towering header? Maybe. His role in the 3-0 drubbing of Liverpool? Possibly. His raw destruction of West Ham? I could do that one as well.

But the one game I could not miss, the one beautiful game that deserves mention. Manchester United 6-0 Newcastle United. It was a demolition job from the Reds. It was led by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo, with his first career hat-trick, putting Newcastle to the sword, and destroying the despondent Geordies.

Straight from the word go, Ronaldo had opened his box of tricks, operating from the right-hand side, using his skill set to both go past the opposition and to create space for others around him. The sheer gravity of him.

There were even moments where the Portuguese-man was tracking back to where the penalty box was, and when he did, he flew away on the counter-attack, being released multiple times on the break. You got the sense we were in for something special tonight from Cristiano.

His typically direct style was a problem all evening, and it was particularly evident close to half an hour gone in the game. He picked up the ball in the left channel and got on his bike. He took it past two players before being fouled. Ronaldo was in no mood to wait around. A quick pass to Anderson who quickly gave it straight back to him, and the flying forward raced away again. One, two, three players couldn’t deal with him, and down he went under pressure. Was it a foul, was it not? I don’t know. I thought it was. But this was just a taster from the dancing destroyer on this January night.

The next moment where Ronaldo frightened the helpless Newcastle goalkeeper was a few minutes later. The ball fell to him, and he took a couple of touches before unleashing a shot heading for the bottom corner. It forced a quick, smart save from Shay Given. Ronaldo was whirring.

From the resulting corner, Ronaldo in typically dominant fashion aerially, got the jump on his man. His cat-like quickness got him a yard of space, and you were certain the net was about to bulge. Not yet.

But five minutes into the second half it would be. After a foul from behind on the edge of the box, it was free-kick time, and his eyes lit up. Ronaldo took the ball and placed it down. Most were expecting his patented knuckleball over the wall. But instead what? A little side foot under the wall and into the net. Intelligent, original, unorthodox. In other words; Cristiano Ronaldo.

For the next series of attacks, it was Ronaldo doing what he did best. He flew with the ball down the right and through the middle. He led counter-attacks; he made life a nightmare for full-backs; it was scary. He lacked the cutting edge passing, as the team did as a whole, but that changed in the 70th minute.

Michael Carrick won back the ball in the second phase before feeding Wayne Rooney. Ronaldo saw what was developing and made a neck-breaking move to get to the box. Rooney laid the ball off to Carlos Tevez, who fizzed a pass to the right foot of Ronaldo. It was a difficult ball to control, but with the touch of an angel, he commanded it, before lashing the ball into the bottom corner. Geometric perfection was the phrase used by Jon Champion; United and Ronaldo were on the way to three.

He had to wait until the end for it, until after he slalomed through the Newcastle defence to set up Tevez, and after Rio Ferdinand had scored the fourth goal in the 85th minute. But finally, after scoring a brace fourteen times without scoring a hat trick, he got it.

The ball fell to John O’Shea around 35 yards out, and the Irishman clipped the ball into the box. It was headed into the air by the defence, and it fell at the feet of Ronaldo. He faked the shot with his right, creating separation for the shot before burying it with his left foot. It was a masterpiece. A hat trick. His first for the club.

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This season in itself, from start to finish, was a marvel. We were stunned from start to finish by the omnipotent Portuguese. The whole season was a stunning revelation by him. 40 goals. The league on the last day. The Champions League. The goal in the final. The drubbing of Liverpool. All season, it was a week to week wonder-show of brilliance.

The 2007/08 season by Cristiano Ronaldo, it was a season that defies description. It’s near impossible to display just how great this man was in these nine months.

It was perfect. It was magnificent. It was world-class. This was elite. This was the best player on the planet. This was Cristiano Ronaldo.

Written by: Mustafa Jawad – @Mussy__J10

Graphics by: Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_