Clinical Ronaldo hits hat-trick as United edge Spurs 3-2

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MANCHESTER, England, March 12 (Reuters) - Cristiano Ronaldo answered all the questions about his continuing value to Manchester United with asuperb hat-trick to secure a 3-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur in an entertaining Premier League contest on Saturday.

Just six days after doubts were raised about his injury absence for the Manchester derby and at the end of a week marked by tabloid speculation over his relationship with interim manager Ralf Rangnick, the 37-year-old delivered a reminder of just why United chose to bring him back to Old Trafford.

The five-times Ballon d'Or winner headed the winner nine minutes from time before he was promptly taken off to ecstatic cheers. It was the 807th goal of his career, laying claim to professional football's all-time leading scorer record. read more

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With the whole stadium chanting 'Viva Ronaldo', the atmosphere at Old Trafford, which has endured a disappointing season, was back to the heady days of September when the forward scored twice against Newcastle United on his return to the club.

The result moves United two points above Arsenal and back into fourth place, although the Gunners have four games in hand starting with Sunday's home match against Leicester City.

Pundits, like former United captain Roy Keane, had questioned whether Ronaldo truly was injured for the 4-1 loss at Premier League leaders City while his decision to fly back to Portugal for his rehab also raised questions.

When asked before the Tottenham game whether Ronaldo was happy with his situation, Rangnick said: "I don't know. I haven't asked him if he's happy at Manchester and at this club."

But the way the team celebrated his goals and the look of determination, almost anger, on the 37-year-old's Ronaldo's face after each goal, sent a clear message.

“Everybody knows Cristiano – there’s no need to talk about him. That’s what he does. He didn’t play in the last game, but he comes back and scores three goals. Everybody’s happy," said midfielder Paul Pogba.

“Ronaldo was brilliant. I think that’s all we needed - a reaction. We scored beautiful goals. Even when we conceded a goal, we came back and scored again. The mentality was there again today.

Ronaldo put United ahead in the 12th minute with a spectacular long-range blast from over 20 metres out after he had collected a clever flick from Fred.

But a Harry Kane penalty brought Spurs level in the 35th, after a cross from Dejan Kulusevski had struck Alex Telles' arm.

Three minutes later, though, the Portugal forward restored United's advantage, slotting home after Jadon Sancho broke the offside trap and set up Ronaldo with a low cross.

Tottenham restored parity in the 72nd with an own goal by United captain Harry Maguire who slid in to inadvertently divert a low cross from Sergio Reguilon past David De Gea.

But Ronaldo, who had twice tested keeper Hugo Lloris after the break, settled the contest with a powerful header from an Alex Telles corner.

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Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ken Ferris

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