In his two matches as caretaker manager of Manchester United, Michael Carrick hasn’t hesitated making some surprise lineup decisions. But none were bigger than his benching of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in a 1-1 draw against Chelsea.
Carrick went with a front three of Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho against the Blues, and although the team didn’t create much in attack, it did take a 50th-minute lead after Sancho scored his first Premier League goal.
United still held the 1-0 lead when Carrick opted to bring on the 36-year-old Ronaldo for the goal scorer in the 63rd minute. The Portuguese star, who is one goal away from 800 career goals for club and country, had seven total touches in what was a near half-hour shift. Although he was a perfect five-for-five on his passing, according to SofaScore stats, he had more yellow cards (1) than shots (0) during his stint.
MORE: How Man United held Chelsea to a draw
Here’s how Carrick explained the decision before the match:
“Yeah, a few tweaks and changes from the other night [Champions League]. Freshen things up a little bit,” Carrick told Sky before the match. “Of course, Cristiano is probably the standout name. But just gameplan ideas.
“Had a good chat with Cristiano actually. He was great and we’ve decided to go like that today.
“It’s a decision just to pick a team to be honest. Don’t think it needs any more drama than that.”
Michael Carrick explains his decision to leave Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench for Manchester United’s match at Chelsea.
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) November 28, 2021
Carrick took over for former United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after he was let go on Nov. 21. In his first game in charge in Tuesday’s Champions League road win against Villarreal, Carrick sat regular Bruno Fernandes and English national teamer Marcus Rashord, using them as subs. But he did start Ronaldo, who nearly went the entire 90 minutes as the Red Devils clinched a spot in the knockout rounds.
The Chelsea match was only the second time that Ronaldo has been benched in 15 matches in the Premier League and Champions League since returning to Manchester United in an offseason move from Italian club Juventus. The last time it happened in an Oct. 2 home draw against Everton, it created an uproar, and even legendary Man United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was caught on video questioning the decision by then-manager Solskajer.
MORE: Ronaldo’s only ambition is to win more Ballon d’Ors than Messi
The move play Ronaldo limited minutes against Chelsea might be a way to preserve the forward for a busy stretch of matches in December, including seven league matches and a Champions League group stage finale. That begins on Thursday with an important home game against Arsenal in the race for the top four, which guarantees Champions League football next season.
Whatever the rationale, the benching still created plenty of discussion. Sky Sports pundit and former Man United player Gary Neville suggested that reported incoming interim coach Ralf Rangnick may have had a say in the decision to ensure more effective pressing by Man United in a challenging match against league leader Chelsea. But after the match, Carrick insisted that Rangnick had nothing to do with the lineup selection against Chelsea.
A lot of people having a go at Michael Carrick for dropping Ronaldo and picking that MDF. I’ve a feeling the the incoming manager has picked that team as it’s a huge departure from midweek and what they’ve been doing
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) November 28, 2021
Former Man United great Roy Keane didn’t understand why Ronaldo wouldn’t make the XI and insisted that the team’s star forward should be starting the biggest matches, including against Chelsea. His fellow pundit and former player, Jamie Carragher, thinks the move might have been a way for Carrick to detach himself from Solskjaer, for whom he served as assistant.
MORE: How Ronaldo could miss out on the 2022 World Cup
It’s unclear when Rangnick might take over given he hasn’t been officially announced despite multiple reports claiming a deal is in place.
If Rangnick is formally unveiled, there is a scenario in which Carrick could be on the sideline against Arsenal on Thursday. It would be interesting to see who claims responsibility for picking the lineup in that case.