Cristiano Ronaldo’s latest show of petulance has cast a shadow over Manchester United ahead of their crunch Premier League clash with Chelsea.
Tottenham have yet to prove they truly belong among the league’s elite, while Liverpool forward Darwin Nunez is repaying Jurgen Klopp’s faith.
AFP Sport looks at three key talking points in this weekend’s action:
Ten Hag lays down law to Ronaldo
No matter what Erik ten Hag does to lift Manchester United towards respectability in his first season, the Dutchman is yet to escape the long shadow cast by Ronaldo.
Ronaldo’s latest show of disdain for Ten Hag’s authority came in the final minutes of Wednesday’s 2-0 win against Tottenham when he walked down the Old Trafford tunnel while the match was still in progress.
The 37-year-old’s refusal to wait for the final whistle reportedly came after he told Ten Hag he did not want to come on as a late substitute.
Ronaldo’s temper tantrum was not his first this term and, after his failed attempt to engineer a transfer in the close-season, the Portugal striker is clearly frustrated at finding himself in limbo.
In response to Ronaldo’s antics, Ten Hag has finally laid down the law and the star, who has scored just twice in 12 appearances this season, has been dropped from the squad that will travel to Chelsea on Saturday.
United will surely look to end Ronaldo’s turbulent second spell at the club by selling him in the January transfer window, but until then Ten Hag has to deal with the malcontent’s presence in the background.
Nunez revival lifts Liverpool
Nunez is rounding into form at just the right time for Liverpool as the Uruguay forward rewards Klopp for his patience.
Nunez was sent off in his first Premier League game at Anfield against Crystal Palace in August and then went five games without a goal, fuelling unflattering comparisons with Manchester City’s prolific striker Erling Haaland.
But, with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz sidelined by injuries, Liverpool boss Klopp needed Nunez to start showing why he paid £64 million to sign him from Benfica in the close-season.
And the 23-year-old has risen to the challenge, with his winner in Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over West Ham taking him to five goals for the Reds, including three in his last four games.
“It is important. He has scored now a couple of times in the last few games. He arrived 100 percent, now even with numbers, which is fine,” Klopp said.
Liverpool have recorded consecutive league victories for only the second time this season and head to struggling Nottingham Forest on Saturday aiming to close the gap on the top four.
Spurs keep faith over top-four woes
Outclassed by Manchester United in a 2-0 defeat that could have been far heavier, Tottenham have yet to silence the critics who question their poor record against the other contenders for a top-four place.
Antonio Conte’s side were well below their best at Old Trafford in a limp display reminiscent of their recent 3-1 loss in the north London derby at Arsenal.
Tottenham also needed a controversial stoppage-time equalizer from Harry Kane to rescue a 2-2 draw at Chelsea in August.
That series of underwhelming performances when the stakes were highest has led some to doubt Tottenham’s right to be ranked as title contenders, despite their current lofty third-place position.
However, Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris insists it is too early to panic.
“It’s not everything dark and everything bright, it was in between,” Lloris said prior to Sunday’s meeting with Newcastle.
“It’s too early to analyze because, I know you’re going to say Chelsea, Arsenal and now Manchester United, we have to see also when they come to our stadium how it will be. But yes it’s frustrating to lose a tough game.”
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