Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has dropped both Cristiano Ronaldo and captain Harry Maguire for the Monday Night Football clash with Liverpool.
United enter the Old Trafford encounter in the relegation zone without a single point from their first two games, and Ten Hag has decided to start Raphael Varane and Anthony Martial in place of his captain and forward talisman, the latter of whom has already requested to leave the club this summer.
Ronaldo was also named on the bench for United’s opening game with Brighton, having been allowed to miss much of the club’s pre-season preparations for personal reasons, but both started last weekend’s 4-0 defeat by Brentford, where they each completed 90 minutes.
Luke Shaw and Fred are also both dropped to the substitutes bench, with Tyrell Malacia making his first start at left-back and McTominay also restored to the starting line-up and Anthony Elanga starting behind Marcus Rashford – with Anthony Martial only fit enough to be named as a substitute.
Liverpool, meanwhile, welcome Roberto Firmino back from injury with Darwin Nunez missing from the game due to suspension.
Joe Gomezwho was not fit to start against Crystal Palace last week, replaces Nat Phillips in defense while Jordan Henderson likewise starts in place of Fabinho, who is benched.
Teams in full…
Manchester United: De Gea, Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Malacia, McTominay, Eriksen, Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford, Martial.
Subs: Heaton, Maguire, Ronaldo, Martial, Fred, Shaw, Wan-Bissaka, Van de Beek, Garnacho.
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson, Milner, Henderson, Elliott, Salah, Firmino, Diaz.
Subs: Adrian, Davies, Fabinho, Tsimikas, Carvalho, Clark, Bajcetic, Phillips, Van den Berg.
‘Ten Hag has left out spine of his team’
Sky Sports pundits Roy Keane and Gary Neville understood the changes to leave out both Ronaldo and Maguire, with former defender Neville defending the decision to name Varane as Martinez’s partner.
“Erik ten Hag has left out the whole spine of his team,” said Neville.
“It’s a massive change, but the Varane and Martinez partnership does give United more mobility and they will need that tonight against Liverpool’s front three.”
Keane said it was no surprise to see the pair named on the bench due to their performances in the opening two weekends of the season.
“The performances haven’t been good enough and that’s what a manager’s job is – to make big calls,” said Keane.
“It’s no surprise to see Maguire and Ronaldo dropped. Ten Hag has been forced into these changes.”
Maguire misses another big encounter
This is the first time that United manager Ten Hag has excluded Maguire from his starting line-up in a competitive match, with the Dutch coach joining Ralf Rangnick as the only United managers to name the England international on the bench since he moved to Old Trafford .
Maguire made 71 consecutive Premier League starts between his debut in August 2019 and May 2021 under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, before he picked up an ankle injury which cut his season short by four games.
Within that run, Maguire started every Premier League game of the 2019-20 season, the first United outfield player to do so since Garry Pallister in 1994-95.
The centre-back was always picked when available for Solskajer in the 2021-22 season but his situation changed after the Norwegian was sacked in November.
Interim manager Rangnick left Maguire on the bench for United’s trips to Brentford, Brighton and Arsenal last season – the latter of which was a surprise given it was a big game in the club’s quest for a top four finish.
Meanwhile, this is the second time Ronaldo has been left on the bench by Ten Hag this season, with the 37-year-old starting as a substitute on the opening weekend loss at home to Brighton.
Why have Ronaldo and Maguire been dropped?
Sky Sports senior reporter Melissa Reddy:
“Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez were the centre-back pairing all through training this week.
Ideally, that would have been the centre-back combination Ten Hag was working towards during pre-season.
“We were told that Varane was put on a specialized program in order to make sure he was conditioned enough to deal with Ten Hag’s football. His availability has been an issue. There’s obviously no questions surrounding his pedigree and how good a defend he is – the best one at the club.
“When Ten Hag said Maguire was retaining the captaincy, that he was backing him and supporting him with the armband and in terms of his status as a first-XI player, there was some apprehension as to why he did that, even from members of staff who thought he didn’t have to be so concrete over his words.
“He’s still trying to get to know the squad and he doesn’t want to make any changes for now. Once he is fully into the swing of things at United, it’s something he can make a decision over. Obviously it will be a tricky situation if Maguire is not starting regularly but retains the captaincy.
“With Ronaldo, the initial plan was always to have Anthony Martial starting the season. He was very good during the pre-season tour, not just in terms of his own performances and the work he was doing off the ball, but how well Sancho and Rashford combined with him. The movement up front, the fluency and the understanding was excellent and the only reason Ronaldo started the season or Eriksen was used as a false nine was because of Martial’s injury.”