Comparing the Man Utd XI in Cristiano Ronaldo’s last game to the current side

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Cristiano Ronaldo completed his fairytale return to Manchester United this summer, 12 years after leaving the club for Real Madrid. 

Ronaldo has spent the last three seasons at Serie A side Juventus but decided to return to England after they finished fourth in 2020-21.

We’ve looked at the starting XI from Ronaldo’s last game at the club, a 2-0 defeat against Barcelona in 2009, and compared it to the team that beat Wolves 1-0 in August 2021.

Edwin van der Sar – David de Gea

Van der Sar spent two more years at United before hanging up his gloves after suffering another Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in 2011.

Signed as Van der Sar’s direct replacement, De Gea recovered from a difficult start and then developed into one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

John O’Shea – Aaron Wan-Bissaka

A United stalwart, O’Shea came through the academy and enjoyed an illustrious 12-year career at Old Trafford, playing in virtually every position along the way.

He even scored in the 2009 Champions League semi-final first leg against Arsenal but joined Sunderland in 2011 after falling down the pecking order.

The notion that a right-back could cost £50million would seem absurd in 2009 but that’s exactly what United spent on Wan-Bissaka 10 years later.

He’s an ever-present in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first XI and is regarded as one of the best one-v-one defenders in the Premier League.

READ: A tribute to John O’Shea, Manchester United’s great court jester

Rio Ferdinand – Harry Maguire

Having joined United from Leeds in a £29.3million deal in 2002, Ferdinand became the world’s most expensive defender.

The centre-back more than justified the price tag, winning six Premier League titles, the Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup and two League Cups in his 12 years at the club.

Maguire followed in Ferdinand’s footsteps by becoming the world’s most expensive defender in 2019, joining United from Leicester City for £80million.

While he’s yet to win a trophy for the club, he has helped shore up their leaky defence and was also appointed club captain in 2020.

Nemanja Vidic – Raphael Varane

Vidic was at his best in 2008-09, winning the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year and the Premier League Player of the Season awards.

But the former Serbia international was plagued by injury problems in his final three years at Old Trafford, joining Inter Milan on a free transfer in 2014.

After Real Madrid won the race for Varane’s signature in 2011, United finally got their man 10 years later.

The 28-year-old arrives with a proven pedigree of winning trophies, having already lifted three La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and the World Cup.

READ: ‘The complete centre-back’ – 21 quotes on Man Utd’s Raphael Varane

Patrice Evra – Luke Shaw

Evra established himself as one of the best left-backs in the world at United, earning his place in the 2009 FIFA FIFPro World XI.

After he moved to Juventus in 2014, United earmarked Shaw as his long-term successor and agreed to pay Southampton’s £27million asking price.

The England international enjoyed a promising start to his Old Trafford career before suffering a double leg break against PSV Eindhoven in 2015.

He then had a turbulent relationship with Jose Mourinho but is finally fulfilling his potential under the tutelage of Solskjaer.

READ: How Patrice Evra succeeded Gary Neville as Man Utd’s hated hero

Michael Carrick – Fred

Carrick gave the ball away in the build-up to Barcelona’s opening goal and later admitted that he suffered from depression following the final.

“I beat myself up over that goal,” Carrick told The Times in 2018. “I kept asking myself: ‘Why did I do that?’ And then it [the depression] snowballed from there. It was a tough year after that. It lingered for a long time.”

“I had won the Champions League the year before, but that was totally irrelevant. It felt like I was depressed. I was really down. I imagine that is what depression is.

“I describe it as depression because it wasn’t a one-off thing. I felt bad or terrible after some games, but then you get over it in the next couple of days, but that one I just couldn’t shrug off. It was a strange feeling.”

The midfielder began to recover in 2011 and helped the club win two more Premier League titles before hanging up his boots in 2017.

Fred was signed for £52million in 2018 but became a much-maligned figure amongst the United support after a difficult debut season.

The Brazil international has been able to turn things around under Solskjaer, while Carrick has also helped with one-on-one sessions in training.

Anderson – Paul Pogba

Having won the prestigious Golden Boy award in 2008, Anderson was regarded as one of the brightest young talents in world football.

But the midfielder became blighted by injury problems after the 2009 Champions League final and made just 64 Premier League appearances over the following six seasons.

Pogba, a fellow Golden Boy winner, left United on a free transfer before returning to the club in an £86million deal four years later.

While the France international frustrates people with his inconsistency, he has been a key player for Solskjaer and is capable of providing moments of pure brilliance.

READ: A tribute to Anderson, Manchester United’s cult hero and great showman

Ryan Giggs – Bruno Fernandes

Giggs moved into central midfield towards the end of his glittering career and had another five years at the top level before hanging up his boots in 2014.

Since joining United from Sporting Lisbon in January 2020, Fernandes has exceeded all expectations to become their talisman.

The 27-year-old has set the standard in terms of productivity and reportedly played a key role in bringing Ronaldo back to Old Trafford.

Park Ji-Sung – Daniel James

In a team that featured several big-name stars, Park was never the headline act but often played an essential and selfless supporting role.

“He was truly fantastic, particularly in big games,” Ferguson told the official Manchester United website after Park joined QPR n 2012. “I loved playing him in the big games. His record against Arsenal, for instance, was fantastic.

“The Milan games over there and at Old Trafford, when I asked Park to play directly against Pirlo, are memorable.

“He was selfless. He played for the team and whatever role you gave him, he would stick to that role. He was a really wonderful, disciplined professional for us.”

James became Solskjaer’s first United signing in the summer of 2019 and impressed the manager with his exceptional pace and work ethic on the wings.

But the Wales international was deemed surplus to requirement following Ronaldo’s return and joined Leeds in a £25million deal.

READ: A tribute to Park Ji-sung, the key cog & battery in Man Utd’s winning machine

Cristiano Ronaldo – Mason Greenwood

Despite winning the Premier League in 2009, Ronaldo’s first spell at United ended with disappointment as Lionel Messi’s Barcelona lifted the Champions League in Roma.

The Portugal international took his game to another level after leaving Old Trafford, scoring 551 goals in 572 appearances for Real Madrid and Juventus. He’s now back at Old Trafford and will be hoping to end their eight-year wait for a league title.

Greenwood came through United’s academy and has established himself as one of the most exciting young prospects in football, scoring 32 goals in all competitions since the start of 2019-20.

He now faces more competition for his place in the team but playing alongside someone as talented and experienced as Ronaldo will be invaluable.

Wayne Rooney – Jadon Sancho

After Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez both left Old Trafford in the summer of 2009, Rooney assumed the mantle as United’s main man.

The former England international spent another eight years at the club, winning two more Premier League titles and becoming their all-time leading goalscorer in the process.

Having starred in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, Sancho finally completed his £73million move to United in 2021 and will now be hoping to follow in Rooney’s footsteps.

“Who did I look up to when I was young? I’d probably say Rooney,” Sancho told England’s YouTube channel in 2020.

“It’d have to be Rooney because he was doing madness at Manchester United. Even at Everton when he made his debut. He was too grown for everyone, at his age.”

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