Cristiano Ronaldo would not have been happy to have been benched for a second game in a row but on both occasions Manchester United have come away with maximum points.
Erik ten Hag instead chose Marcus Rashford to lead the line after an encouraging display in Monday’s win over Liverpool.
The trip to Southampton seemed perfect for a poacher but the United boss opted against starting Ronaldo.
He was eventually brought on with just over 20 minutes to go but Ten Hag’s selection looks ominous for the striker.
Rashford could have deployed on the left, which is where he was when he scored against Liverpool, but was positioned up top. Anthony Elanga – who was 16-months-old when Ronaldo first joined United in 2003 – was the man on the flank.
Time waits for nobody and the next generation are now making their mark, seemingly at the cost of 37-year-old Ronaldo. Ten Hag has remained adamant that Ronaldo is in his season’s plans.
But his starting XI selection against Southampton indicates that the veteran could be involved only as a bit-part rotation player. It’s a role Ronaldo has never experienced and certainly one he won’t like.
Earlier this year, he revealed his desire to play into his forties and will presumably want to go out at the top rather than let his career peter out before retirement. Warming the Old Trafford bench, then, is not on the agenda.
In fact, his transfer request earlier this summer made obvious that staying at the club itself is not in his long-term plans. The last thing Ten Hag needs is an upset Ronaldo in his squad.
After a very shaky start, he looks to have stabled the ship but an unhappy superstar can easily get it rocking again. Therefore, an exit may be beneficial for all.
The Manchester Evening News understands that Ten Hag – who says Ronaldo has not told him he wants to leave – is privately open to letting him depart despite his public stance on the matter and Joel Glazer’s eagerness to keep the forward. The problem all summer has been where Ronaldo will exit to