Cristiano Ronaldo had had a quiet 2022, with a hurting hip and a nagging sense that time and the pushing tendencies of modern football were catching up with him, despite the fact that for one evening at least, this was a moment dominated by the renowned No 7. Manchester United won it with a hat-trick in a game that was essential to their chances of finishing in the top four, and a performance that once again suggested they are lost in this interim identity crisis. They do not play as a unified force throughout the game, as even Tottenham Hotspur has learned to do under Antonio Conte.
His game-winning goal was a classic, a fantastic driving run through penalty box traffic to get his head to a corner. Cristian Romero, the rugged Spurs center-back who had assisted on the game-tying goal, was pulled out of position, and Ronaldo was sent in to do the job. This was his 49th hat-trick in club history, three more goals to add to the tally, and perhaps more poignant because he is nearing the end of his career. With seven minutes left and Old Trafford in raptures, he strutted out, his face expressing no emotion but undoubtedly reaffirming all the old assumptions he has about himself.
Since the turn of the year, the legendary goal-accumulator, who is currently the most prolific of all time, has had a dry spell. His third goal of the night was his 806th of his senior professional career, putting him ahead of Josef Bican, an Austrian-Czech goalscoring sensation from the 1930s. Before this game, Ronaldo had only scored one goal in ten games, and there were signs in his game that he was battling with what it meant for his personal sense of self. He could also have been battling his dissatisfaction with this United team, which was often unimaginative and was hauled back to 2-2 thanks to their own goal by their struggling captain Harry Maguire.
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