Pep Guardiola instructed Manchester City youngsters to replicate the roles of Manchester United players before March’s Premier League clash, with one academy prospect given the somewhat unflattering task of playing like Cristiano Ronaldo.
The City boss was preparing for the second Manchester derby of the season having comprehensively defeated United 2-0 back in November. Guardiola went to great lengths with his planning for the fixture even though there was a huge gap between his side and Ralf Rangnick’s in the table at the time.
The Athletic claims he collected virtually every young prospect on City’s books so he had enough numbers for two 11-a-side training matches to simulate the derby to come. These pitted two senior XIs against two teams made up of youngsters, each of whom was given a United player to mimic.
Naturally, one academy talent was handed the job of pretending to be Ronaldo for 90 minutes, given the Portuguese superstar was the Red Devils’ top goalscorer and expected to lead the line in the derby. The report adds Guardiola instructed the youngster to press the opposition half-heartedly by approaching them and stopping when he got near.
This is a damning insight into how the Spaniard views Ronaldo’s pressing ability, which was the subject of scrutiny throughout the season. As it happened, Ronaldo was injured and therefore unavailable to feature against City, instead jetting back to his homeland to recuperate.
In the absence of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, United suffered another heavy defeat by the Sky Blues, losing 4-1 at the Etihad as Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez were at the double. Ronaldo, meanwhile, returned to action the following weekend and scored a hat-trick as United defeated Tottenham 3-2.
Is Cristiano Ronaldo’s pressing sub-par? Have your say in the comments…
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It was a vintage performance which served as a reminder of his enduring quality even at the age of 37, as well as what he can offer the Red Devils even if his pressing ability is up for debate. New manager Erik ten Hag has no doubts over Ronaldo’s quality and confirmed the former Real Madrid and Juventus star has a place in his plans for next season.
Speaking in his first press conference as United boss earlier this week, the Dutchman was quizzed on whether he would like the veteran striker to spearhead his attack and replied: “Of course.” Ten Hag was also asked what the highest scorer in football history will bring to his team and, predictably, replied: “Goals… I talk first with Ronaldo before I talk with you.”