Cristiano Ronaldo played no part in Manchester United’s 4-1 derby defeat to arch-rivals Manchester City, with the Portuguese superstar’s sister sparking controversy by liking a social media post that suggests his absence had nothing to do with a supposed injury.
The 37-year-old was not even at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday to witness another demoralising setback for the Red Devils at the hands of Premier League title-chasing neighbours, with a five-time Ballon d’Or winner reportedly flying back to his homeland.
Interim United boss Ralf Rangnick claimed that Ronaldo had been left out of his plans after picking up a hip problem, but there has been plenty of speculation to suggest that he was overlooked in what has become a frustrating first season back at Old Trafford for an all-time great.
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What has been said on social media?
A post from a Ronaldo fan account posted prior to a meeting between the red and blue halves of Manchester read: “Cristiano Ronaldo is not injured and is not sick. The man is 100%.
“Good morning to you who, like me, are sad and angry because Rangnick decided to ruin our Sunday by taking CR7 out of the derby against Manchester City simply for tactical reasons, to defend himself more in the game.”
Said post was subsequently liked by Ronaldo’s sister Katia Aveiro in what is considered to be a nod towards a superstar performer being omitted for other reasons.
Who else has spoken out?
Rangnick told reporters before and after a heavy defeat for his side against City that Ronaldo was nursing an injury.
He said: “I have to believe my medical department, our doctor came to see me Friday morning before training and said Cristiano could not train because of some problems with his hip flexor and the same Saturday.”
Former United captain Roy Keane was, however, among those to question the official line coming out of United before a ball had been kicked in the latest instalment of a long-running derby feud.
The ex-Red Devils midfielder told Sky Sports when asked if there was something more to Ronaldo’s absence than a slight knock: “There seems to be.
“I just don’t like it when the manager talks about this hip flexor, I don’t get it.
“We talk about Ronaldo being some sort of machine, he's very rarely injured and then every now and again he comes out with something like that and says hip flexor. It doesn’t add up to me.”
With Edinson Cavani also ruled out for United against City, and with Marcus Rashford only named on the bench, Rangnick opted to start with Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in attacking roles.
That plan backfired as, despite holding their own for long periods in the first half, the Red Devils slipped to a heavy defeat which has put a serious dent in the club’s top-four ambitions.
United sit fifth in the Premier League table as things stand, one point behind fourth-placed Arsenal but with the Gunners holding three games in hand and with a chasing pack behind them still within touching distance.