CRISTIANO RONALDO was singled out for special praise by Erik ten Hag — for his defensive work.
Ten Hag’s Manchester United team travel to Aston Villa on Sunday with the Dutchman delighted that Ronaldo is now leading his pressing game.
Cristiano Ronaldo is struggling to hit the back of the net so far this season
Cristiano Ronaldo is struggling to hit the back of the net so far this season.
But Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag has praised Ronaldo for his defensive work rate
But Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag has praised Ronaldo for his defensive work rateCredit: EPA
The Red Devils have only conceded once in their last seven games — a penalty in the 1–1 draw with Chelsea.
Ronaldo missed that Stamford Bridge clash after Ten Hag axed him for refusing to go on as a sub in the 2–0 win over Tottenham and then walking down the tunnel five minutes before the final whistle.
But CR7 is back in Ten Hag’s good books after he hailed the forward for his tracking back.
Ten Hag said: “We defend with 11, starting with Cristiano up front.
“So we are hard to beat as a team. That’s a compliment but it’s also that process we have to keep going.
“That makes it hard to beat us because everyone is convinced of that plan, everyone is disciplined in that plan.
“When we play with the desire and passion, we are hard to beat and that makes us, in this moment, successful.”
Desire and passion were not the first words former Ajax boss Ten Hag would have used to describe superstar Ronaldo – who went into a super sulk.
Ronaldo, 37, was already on a warning from Ten Hag having left Old Trafford at half-time after being replaced in a pre-season friendly against Rayo Vallecano.
Ronaldo’s act of contrition was accepted, so he started in the 3–0 Europa League win over Sheriff Tiraspol — scoring the 701st club goal of his career.
And he has been there at kick–off ever since, against West Ham and Real Sociedad and, again, NO goals have been conceded.
Ronaldo will be up front again at Villa Park on Sunday.
However, his Portuguese team-mate Bruno Fernandes will be missing, suspended after picking up five bookings.
Ten Hag has always been adamant that no player — not even a scoring phenomenon like Ronaldo — is irreplaceable.
But fiery playmaker Fernandes has figured in every game under the new Red Devils boss and he admitted: “Yeah, until now, Bruno is so important for us.
“In every match, he plays really good — as a No 10, he’s playing really good games and we have to replace him.
“That’s the squad. You need a squad, it’s not about 11 players.
“You need a squad to win in a season and now we have to replace him and we will do.”
As United fans start believing a Champions League place can be achieved this season, against all expectations, they have voted new-boys Casemiro and Lisandro Martinez first and second in the club’s player of the month awards.
Yet Ten Hag underscores the new togetherness among his players as a major factor in how the midfielder and defender have settled down.
He explained: “The signings thank the squad.
“They are the right players with the right players who were already there. And together, they are forming a team and the team spirit is good — it’s high.
“So we need to keep that going, keep constructing that, keep building that, and bring even more passion and desire in because we want to win something.”
MANCHESTER UNITED (likely): De Gea, Dalot, Lindelof, Martinez, Shaw, Casemiro, Fred, Eriksen, Antony, Ronaldo, Rashford.