MANCHESTER, March 13: Cristiano Ronaldo answered all the questions about his continuing value to Manchester United with a superb hat-trick to secure a 3-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur in an entertaining Premier League contest on Saturday.
Just six days after doubts were raised about his injury absence for the Manchester derby and at the end of a week marked by tabloid speculation over his relationship with interim manager Ralf Rangnick, the 37-year-old delivered a reminder of just why United chose to bring him back to Old Trafford.
The five-times Ballon d’Or winner headed the winner nine minutes from time before he was promptly taken off to ecstatic cheers. It was the 807th goal of his career, laying claim to professional football’s all-time leading scorer record.
With the whole stadium chanting ‘Viva Ronaldo’, the atmosphere at Old Trafford, which has endured a disappointing season, was back to the heady days of September when the forward scored twice against Newcastle United on his return to the club.
The result moves United two points above Arsenal and back into fourth place, although the Gunners have four games in hand starting with Sunday’s home match against Leicester City.
Pundits, like former United captain Roy Keane, had questioned whether Ronaldo truly was injured for the 4-1 loss at Premier League leaders City while his decision to fly back to Portugal for his rehab also raised questions.
When asked before the Tottenham game whether Ronaldo was happy with his situation, Rangnick said: “I don’t know. I haven’t asked him if he’s happy at Manchester and at this club.”
But the way the team celebrated his goals and the look of determination, almost anger, on the 37-year-old’s Ronaldo’s face after each goal, sent a clear message.
“Everybody knows Cristiano – there’s no need to talk about him. That’s what he does. He didn’t play in the last game, but he comes back and scores three goals. Everybody’s happy,” said midfielder Paul Pogba.
“Ronaldo was brilliant. I think that’s all we needed – a reaction. We scored beautiful goals. Even when we conceded a goal, we came back and scored again. The mentality was there again today.
Ronaldo put United ahead in the 12th minute with a spectacular long-range blast from over 20 metres out after he had collected a clever flick from Fred.
But a Harry Kane penalty brought Spurs level in the 35th, after a cross from Dejan Kulusevski had struck Alex Telles’ arm.
Three minutes later, though, the Portugal forward restored United’s advantage, slotting home after Jadon Sancho broke the offside trap and set up Ronaldo with a low cross.
Tottenham restored parity in the 72nd with an own goal by United captain Harry Maguire who slid in to inadvertently divert a low cross from Sergio Reguilon past David De Gea.
But Ronaldo, who had twice tested keeper Hugo Lloris after the break, settled the contest with a powerful header from an Alex Telles corner.
EPL: Liverpool sink Brighton to move within three points of Man City
Liverpool closed the gap on Premier League leaders Manchester City to three points as Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah sealed a 2-0 win against Brighton on Saturday.
Diaz opened the scoring in the first half and Salah netted with a penalty after the interval at the Amex Stadium.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have won their last eight league games, keeping the pressure on City, with the champions playing at Crystal Palace on Monday.
While City are in fine form, Liverpool’s hot streak is equally impressive.
The Reds have scored 21 goals and conceded just twice in their winning run, while also keeping a third successive league clean sheet for the first time this term.
When Salah converted from the spot, it made Liverpool only the second club to score 2,000 goals in the Premier League, emulating Manchester United.
Salah has reached 20 goals in a Premier League season for the fourth time, with his latest strike coming at just the right time amid his tense contract negotiations.
Klopp said on Friday it is up to Salah whether he signs a new deal, a claim that was followed by the Egypt forward’s agent tweeting a series of laughing emojis just minutes later.
Salah’s current deal runs until the end of next season and he has previously said his future is in Liverpool’s hands and he is not asking for “crazy stuff”.
His long-term value to Liverpool is immense, but of more immediate concern to Klopp will be the knock that saw him replaced by Diogo Jota soon after his first goal in four games.
With a testing trip to Arsenal looming on Wednesday followed by an FA Cup quarter-final at Nottingham Forst, Klopp will hope his star makes a quick recovery.
Liverpool, chasing an unprecedented quadruple, suffered only their third defeat this season against Inter Milan in the Champions League last-16 second leg in midweek.
But Klopp insisted his players are such bad losers that they were certain to mount an immediate response to the Inter loss, which didn’t stop them progressing to the quarter-finals on aggregate in any case.
The German’s assessment proved correct, after a lively Brighton start that saw Neal Maupay drill his strike just wide and Leandro Trossard curl his shot straight at Alisson Becker.
Liverpool responded emphatically and Salah picked out Sadio Mane, whose close-range effort was pushed away by Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez.
Klopp’s team took the lead in the 19th minute when Diaz sprinted onto Joel Matip’s perfectly-weighted pass and bravely headed into the empty net as Sanchez rushed off his line, pole-axing the Colombian with a dangerous high challenge in the process.
Diaz was unable to celebrate as he was writhing on the turf after being caught in the chest by Sanchez’s leg, but the keeper surprisingly escaped a red card following a VAR check.
Diaz’s second goal since signing from Porto in January was almost followed by one for Salah, whose incisive burst ended with a low drive that forced Sanchez to save at his near post.
Trossard shot wastefully over from Maupay’s defence-splitting pass soon after the interval.
Salah almost made him pay for that miss with a deflected effort that looped onto the crossbar.
Liverpool’s luck was out on that occasion but they doubled their lead in the 61st minute.
Naby Keita’s shot was blocked by Yves Bissouma’s arm, conceding a penalty that Salah drove past Sanchez with ease to keep the title race bubbling nicely. (Agencies/AFP)