EPL TALK: Ronaldo's triumphant return lifts Manchester United to fever pitch

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Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their second goal with his new teammates.
Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their second goal with his new teammates. (PHOTO: Reuters/Phil Noble)

SINGAPORE — How have your favourite English Premier League (EPL) teams performed over the past week? Yahoo News Singapore looks at the key talking points surrounding the league in this weekly review:

CR7's sense of the occasion electrifies fan base

WHAT HAPPENED: This weekend was all about one man and his return to the club and league that made him a global superstar. And Cristiano Ronaldo did not disappoint.

Two goals, one on each side of the Old Trafford pitch, sent the Manchester United faithful into waves of delight amid a 4-1 dismantling of Newcastle United that propelled the Red Devils to the top of the league after four matches. Ronaldo's sense of the occasion is impeccable as always.

Both goals were little nuggets of the deadly marksman the Portuguese has become, evolving from the fleet-footed. freewheeling winger in his first stint with Man United. 

The first was an opportunistic tap-in after Newcastle goalkeeper Freddie Woodman spilled a deflected shot from Mason Greenwood. It may seem fortuitous that Ronaldo was at the right place at the right time, but to not give up on any half-chances is the hallmark of all prolific scorers, and he clearly has not lost that appetite to gobble up a goal.

The second goal was far more impressive, as he embarked on a lung-bursting sprint the moment Luke Shaw charged up the midfield. He still had plenty to do when he received the ball from Shaw, but showed all the composure of a world-class player, fending off the challenge of Jamaal Lascelles to coolly slot the ball through Woodman's legs.

And while Bruno Fernandes and Jesse Lingard added two more superb goals after Ronaldo's brace, it was inevitable that Man United fans were delirious at Ronaldo's triumphant return and are harbouring dreams of a first EPL triumph since 2013.

Of course, it is still early days in this new season, but such feverish enthusiasm amid the United fan base is a significant departure from the past few years, when the Red Devils often stumbled out of the blocks. Remember last season's 1-6 humbling by Tottenham?

Ronaldo is undoubtedly a significant upgrade from Edinson Cavani as the impact veteran striker for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and judging from his Newcastle performance, he remains in phenomenal shape for a 36-year-old. His presence has also lifted his younger teammates, many of whom idolised him since they were young.

Whether Solskjaer can channel this giddy optimism into a swashbuckling run at the EPL title will be a big test of his management of expectations - and of personnel, with new signings Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho yet to fully integrated into his tactical system. 

For now, however, Ronaldo has electrified a fan base who have been underwhelmed by Man United's inability to mount a serious title push since Alex Ferguson's departure eight years ago, and rivals will not relish facing the Red Devils with their former favourite back in the roost.

WHAT'S NEXT: United will seek to build on the Newcastle win with several winnable league matches coming up: against West Ham (away), Aston Villa (home) and Everton (home). This will set up a tough run of matches starting from 24 October, when they will face Liverpool (home), Tottenham (away) and Manchester City (home) in succession.

Harvey Elliott of Liverpool reacts as he looks to be injured as Mohamed Salah calls for medical attention.
Harvey Elliott of Liverpool reacts as he looks to be injured as Mohamed Salah calls for medical attention. (PHOTO: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Horror injury to teen talent Elliott raises fears of another Reds personnel crisis

WHAT HAPPENED: For a team which had not splurge on major new signings during the transfer window, Liverpool's 3-0 away over Leeds United on Sunday should have been an impressive statement of intent for a team whose EPL title defence last season was wrecked by a lengthy injury list.

Instead, the Reds are left wondering whether their relative transfer inactivity will come back to haunt them again this season, when their highly-promising winger Harvey Elliott suffered a gruesome-looking dislocated ankle after a dangerous challenge from Pascal Struijk, potential ruling the 18-year-old out for the rest of the season.

It is a cruel blow to the youngster, who has impressed manager Jurgen Klopp so much so that he has started the Reds' last three league matches. While time is on his side to make a full recovery, Elliott faces an uncertain pathway back into the German's plans.

More crucially, his injury weakens a squad which analysts say lacks adequate cover for their attacking trio of Mohamed Salah (who incidentally scored his 100th goal in the league), Sadio Mane (who also netted) and Roberto Firmino. 

Elliott's emergence had meant that Klopp could resist signing a pricey forward who could combine well with Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold down the right flank. Now, he must hope that the likes of Naby Keita, Takumi Minamino and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - players who struggled with injuries and poor form in recent seasons - can step up in Elliott's injury absence.

It also means that Klopp needs to rejig his squad rotation plans amid a busy stretch of games, with midweek Champions League and Carabao Cup matches coming up. Last season, the Reds' injury woes also began during their busy stretch, causing them to snowball into more injuries as players were over-stretched.

Not surprisingly, some fans were spooked, as Elliott's injury fuelled their simmering nervousness at the club's reluctance to spend. Would their club's title challenge be hampered by this single injury?

The more optimistic ones would point to the Reds' outstanding performance against Leeds as proof that they have enough within the squad to challenge the likes of Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs for the title. Fabinho, Alexander-Arnold and Thiago Alcantara all put in superb shifts.

Can they sustain such excellence should more injuries hit? That's the million-dollar question facing Klopp right now.

WHAT'S NEXT: Two league matches against modest sides - Crystal Palace (home) and Brentford (away) - before Liverpool host Man City on 3 October for another test of their title credentials.

Andros Townsend of Everton celebrates scoring a superb long-range goal against Burnley.
Andros Townsend of Everton celebrates scoring a superb long-range goal against Burnley. (PHOTO: Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images)

Everton in vibrant start under Rafa Benitez, avoiding any fan discontent

WHAT HAPPENED: Four teams are tied at the top of the EPL table after four games. While it comes as of no surprise that title contenders Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool are among the quartet, the presence of Everton will raise a few eyebrows.

But it really shouldn't. Last season, the Toffees also had a bright start to the season, leading the table in the early rounds. The question is whether they can last the distance with their modest squad, as they faded badly midway through last season and eventually finished only in 10th place.

For the moment, however, they are a pleasantly vibrant team under new manager Rafael Benitez. They also retain their gritty roots, showing plenty of resilience in coming back from a goal down to beat Burnley 3-1 on Monday.

Here's the difference between their fine start this season, compared to the previous one: they did it without James Rodriguez and Gylfi Sigurdsson, two players who were supposed to provide the stylish goals to thrill the crowds but arguably underperformed last season. 

Instead, Benitez has leant on industrious midfielders such as Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure and new signing Andros Townsend - who made an assist and scored a brilliant long-range goal against Burnley - to support their two forwards Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (who is unfortunately out for a few weeks with a broken toe). 

So far it has been effective as Everton pile on the goals with 10 in their four EPL games, and Benitez - who was viewed with much scepticism on his hiring, due to his connection with city rivals Liverpool - has largely won over the Goodison Park faithful with the bright start.

The test will surely come when injuries and fixtures start to pile up the middle of the season, and Everton's limited squad strength may prove again to be their Achilles heel. But for the moment, there is palpable optimism among the Everton fan base, and at least there have been no unsavoury scenes of them booing their own manager.

WHAT'S NEXT: Everton will next face Aston Villa away and Norwich at home, before facing their biggest test of the season - away at Old Trafford against Man United on 2 October.

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