Cristiano Ronaldo was named among the substitutes as Erik ten Hag chose his first Manchester United starting XI in the Premier League.
The Portugal star’s relationship with United was a constant sideshow during pre-season, as he did not go on their tour of Australia and Thailand owing to personal reasons, though at the time there was frequent speculation suggesting he wanted to leave for a Champions League club.
No such move materialised and he played the first 45 minutes against Rayo Vallecano last weekend, his only action of pre-season.
But that occasion only increased the spotlight on Ronaldo, as he was one of several players to leave Old Trafford early, conduct Ten Hag described as “unacceptable” in an interview on Dutch television.
Ten Hag subsequently tried to draw a line under the situation at his news conference on Friday, adamant Ronaldo had attracted unfair focus given how many players left early last Sunday.
Similarly, the Dutchman suggested there was to be no further punishment for the guilty parties.
As such, Ten Hag explained prior to Sunday’s game that Ronaldo’s presence on the bench is down to his lack of pre-season action, even though United are without a recognised striker with Anthony Martial injured.
Ten Hag told MUTV: “I already mentioned; short pre-season, he only started training last week.
“He only played 45 minutes and he’s not on the fitness levels the rest of the team is.
“In the Premier League, the games I saw this weekend were really tough and a high intensity.”
In Ronaldo’s absence, Ten Hag opted to deploy Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho in attack, with support from Bruno Fernandes.
Elsewhere in the team, Lisandro Martinez – a pre-season arrival from Ten Hag’s former club Ajax – was chosen to partner Harry Maguire at centre-back, while Christian Eriksen was also selected for his debut.
Ronaldo is joined on the bench by Ten Hag’s first signing, Tyrell Malacia, as well as Raphael Varane, promising youngster Alejandro Garnacho and James Garner, who impressed on loan at Nottingham Forest last season.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 7, 2022