Freddie Woodman could be excused for having nightmares on Friday night as Cristiano Ronaldo prepares for his second Manchester United debut against Newcastle United.
The 24-year-old goalkeeper has the unenviable task of attempting to stop one of the greatest players of all time – the newly crowned leading scorer in men’s internationals – in front of a jubilant United home crowd.
It is a challenge that has proved beyond many of the world’s best number ones, including former Newcastle stalwart Shay Given.
The last time Ronaldo faced Newcastle at Old Trafford, in January 2008, he scored three and United hit six…
RONALDO GOAL GLUT
This was a landmark game in a landmark 2007-08 season for Ronaldo, still less than a year on from his first Champions League strike and only now establishing himself as a prolific goalscorer.
The winger had an outstanding 19 goals in 24 games ahead of the visit of Nigel Pearson’s Newcastle – days out from Kevin Keegan’s second managerial stint at St James’ Park – but was still waiting on a first career hat-trick.
Ronaldo was without a league goal against Newcastle, too, and that trend continued until half-time.
But the Magpies knew only too well how quickly he could take the game away from them; in the 2004-05 FA Cup semi-final, Ronaldo was booked for diving in the opening stages, then provided sublime assists for Ruud van Nistelrooy and Paul Scholes before adding a clinching fourth himself in United’s 4-1 win.
Sure enough, a second-half onslaught was led by Ronaldo, whose free-kick crept past Given for the 49th-minute opener.
Carlos Tevez made it two following an awful clearance from Given – actually one of Newcastle’s better performers, with seven saves – and then sent Ronaldo through for his second.
Rio Ferdinand grabbed the fourth, but all eyes were on Ronaldo again as he chopped past Jose Enrique and fired in a deflected effort to complete the treble.
“This is a very special day for me,” he said afterwards. “It makes me feel very proud to score a hat-trick for this great club.”
Ronaldo followed in the footsteps of Andy Cole, Van Nistelrooy and Scholes in scoring a Premier League hat-trick against Newcastle for United, a record number for one club against another that remains unsurpassed (matched by Arsenal v Leicester City, Liverpool v Arsenal and Tottenham v Southampton).
A controversial Tevez finish, which prompted Alan Smith’s red card, had completed the scoring and made this a day of firsts, with no previous examples – and only one since, Hull City versus Fulham in 2013 – of a Premier League game goalless at half-time ending 6-0. It also equalled United’s 1968 record win against Newcastle.
THE FIRST OF MANY
The hat-trick was not just a first for Ronaldo but also a last – at least until now. He did not score another treble in his initial United stint, although a trip to Tyneside a month later brought two goals and an assist.
Ronaldo will expect to improve that haul on his return, though. There were 44 hat-tricks in his nine years at Real Madrid and a further three in three seasons for Juventus.
His 48 since the Newcastle game leads players in Europe’s top five leagues across all competitions, just ahead of great rival Lionel Messi’s 46.
In fact, until now, Ronaldo’s final season at United was the last campaign in which he did not net a hat-trick. That is a streak he will be keen to preserve – perhaps as soon as in this friendly first fixture…
MORE MAGPIES MISERY?
Ronaldo is yet to lose to Newcastle in all competitions, with his 11 such outings coming in the middle of a 19-game unbeaten stretch for United in this fixture – their best ever sequence.
Newcastle won four times against post-Ronaldo United, however, while the hosts’ long undefeated run at Old Trafford – spanning all 23 home meetings under Alex Ferguson – was ended during David Moyes’ tenure.
But the Magpies, now led by former United captain Steve Bruce, should again make for accommodating party guests.
Woodman has shipped eight goals already this season, becoming the 13th keeper to concede at least two in his first three Premier League starts, although little blame can be laid at his door – the one-time Under-20 World Cup winner has actually prevented 0.11 goals, according to expected goals on target data.
The Newcastle man has matched Declan Rudd’s miserable record in facing a penalty in each of his first three Premier League outings, beaten on the rebound against West Ham on the one occasion he was able to add to the four spot-kick saves he tallied in the Championship with Swansea City across two loan spells.
Only three Premier League teams have given away penalties in four or more matches in succession, but Newcastle’s haphazard defending suggests Ronaldo may well get an opportunity from 12 yards on Saturday.
Regular taker Bruno Fernandes’ only miss in 22 attempts for United was against Newcastle, while nobody has dispatched as many penalties as Ronaldo (84 – 31 clear of second-placed Messi) in Europe’s top five leagues since he left England.
On his big day, who could possibly deny the 36-year-old that sort of opportunity?