So, once again, Ferguson plays Ronaldo up front in the role of a regular No. 9 as he did against Barcelona and Roma last season. Even though Ronaldo says this is not his most favoured position, he continues to excel in the role of sole striker.
So what makes Ronaldo so effective in this role? Well, he has the build to win balls in the air, the speed to chase down opposing defenders and force them back. He has the skill to produce moments of brilliance, like his thunderbolt shot against Porto or his towering header against Roma last season.
You could argue that Rooney possesses most of these attributes, but why then does Ferguson persist in playing Ronaldo up front?
Like all great No. 9s, Ronaldo will not go chasing the ball, unlike Rooney who gets frustrated when he is not involved in the play and drops deep to pick up the ball. Ruud van Nistelrooy, one the most successful strikers at United, was often labeled as a "one trick pony"—he would only come alive in the box.
He exhibited one of the key attributes of a No. 9—they will not mind if they are not involved for periods of time, and then, when it matters most, they are alive for goal scoring opportunities.
Is it any coincidence that the last three matches United have won have been due to a No. 9 playing—Macheda on two occasions and Ronaldo last night. I believe Ronaldo is correct that he is better at playing in midfield and attacking defenders than he is playing further up the pitch, but it does highlight one key concern for Ferguson—United still need a No. 9.
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