Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford will instil confidence and help Manchester United win titles, according to Bruno Fernandes.

Fernandes was United's key man last term, scoring 18 times and assisting 12 in the Premier League as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men finished second in the top flight.

Ronaldo now joins his Portugal team-mate, returning to Manchester after a 12-year absence having previously scored 118 goals in 292 appearances across all competitions in his first spell.

And Fernandes, who impressed with a game-high five passes including an assist in the absence of Ronaldo against Azerbaijan, hailed the quality and confidence the all-time leading international scorer will offer.

"We know that enthusiasm will be high, everyone knows Cristiano and is very happy and confident to have him back," Fernandes told RTP3 post-match on Tuesday.

"[Us] players are part of that confidence, we know what he can give us. Our focus and Cristiano's, because of what I've already talked to him about, is to win what there is to win.

"Our goals remain and obviously, with Cristiano, we have one more reference to help us get closer to that."

 

Ronaldo could feature as soon as September 11 against Newcastle United, who are the only club the 36-year-old scored a Premier League hat-trick against before departing Manchester in 2009.

Despite the supposed rivalry, Liverpool forward Diogo Jota, who scored in the 3-0 defeat of Azerbaijan but blasted a team-high five shots, is looking forward to a competitive Premier League campaign with Ronaldo returning.

"Yes, it always adds value and I think this year has everything to be another great English championship," Jota said to RTP3.

"There was a joke or two while he [Ronaldo] was here, but nothing special."

Fernando Santos felt Portugal deserved to win by an even bigger margin in their 3-0 victory over Azerbaijan in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier.

Portugal made it four wins in five Group A matches to reclaim top spot from Serbia, who were held 1-1 by the Republic of Ireland.

The 2016 European champions were two goals ahead inside 31 minutes thanks to Bernardo Silva's volley and Andre Silva's tap-in.

Diogo Jota added a third for the visitors 15 minutes from time, but only after the Liverpool attacker and Andre Silva had wasted some glorious opportunities.

Portugal scored from three of their 21 attempts in total, a third of those on target, and Santos was disappointed his side did not further improve their goal difference.

"The only thing about the result that is not good was the amount of goals we scored," he told RTP.

"When teams are not organised then they have difficulties, running a lot after the ball and wearing themselves out. When they have the ball they have more difficulties.

"Without some balance in the game it becomes difficult. We knew this was a game of patience as the opponents usually defend well. We knew an early goal would force them to change.

"That happened after the second goal when they went with a 4-3-3. We were always looking for the goal and creating spaces to enter, either through the middle or out wide."

 

Jota was responsible for a team-high five of Portugal's shots, finding the net from one of those having earlier claimed an assist for Andre Silva's goal.

He now has eight goals in 21 caps for the Selecao, who have put their Euro 2020 disappointment behind them with three wins from three over the past week.

"In these three games, one of which was a friendly, we did our job, which was to win each of them," Jota told RTP. "Today's performance was good and so was the result.

"This is what football is all about. You should never give up after missing. I'm glad I scored in the end. I always want to help individually, but the result is the most important thing."

Portugal were without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, who has now linked up with Manchester United, but are two points clear of Serbia in Group A with three more fixtures still to play.

"Every opponent and every match is tough and will be like a final for us," Andre Silva said. "We drew in Serbia and still have to play them in our last game.

"We have to focus on ourselves as we have those three finals to win."

Portugal reclaimed top spot in Group A as they cruised to a 3-0 victory over Azerbaijan in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier.

In the absence of the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, who became the all-time international top men's goalscorer against the Republic of Ireland, the goals were shared around by Fernando Santos' men.

Bruno Fernandes played a part in the first two, teeing up Bernardo Silva for the opener before crossing for Diogo Jota to set up Andre Silva for the second.

Without Sahruddin Mahammadaliyev, matters could have been far worse for Azerbaijan, but the goalkeeper was powerless to stopping Jota add a third in the second half.

The visitors dominated the opening stages, registering 66.7 per cent possession in the first 15 minutes but Fernandes lashed the only half-chance over.

Portugal's possessional patience eventually paid off, Bernardo Silva ghosting in to latch onto Fernandes' deep cross and volley home via the left-hand post with his left foot.

Fernandes was involved in the second goal, too, crossing from the right flank to find Jota, who redirected back across goal for Andre Silva to tap in inside the six-yard area.

Andre Silva should have doubled his account four minutes later after being rolled through by Fernandes, only to drag a glorious chance wide with the goal at his mercy.

A minute after the break, Jota failed to make it three as he sliced wide of an almost open net after profiting from Fernandes' drilled teaser from the right flank.

Fernandes looked for a goal of his own from range, but Mahammadaliyev parried the dipping effort away before keeping out Bernando Silva's fizzing left-footed strike.

After being denied from close range by Mahammadaliyev and blasting over, Jota finally found the back of the net, nodding home after Joao Cancelo's delivery from the right.

What does it mean? Portugal wrestle back top spot

It was always going to be an uphill task for Azerbaijan after Bernardo Silva's opener, given Fernando Santos' men are unbeaten since 2009 when scoring the opening goal in World Cup qualifiers.

Indeed, Portugal boast the best defensive record in Group A, but they are by no means cruising in qualification, topping the table on 13 points with second-place Serbia three points behind by the virtue of playing later on Tuesday.

Azerbaijan, who ended a two-game losing streak with a draw against the Republic of Ireland last time out, sit bottom on goal difference after collecting just the sole point.

Cruise control for Cancelo

Fernandes may take credit for his playmaking clinic, which saw him produce three key passes including his assist.

However, Cancelo sneaked under the radar as he produced a dominant display. The right-back assisted Jota's header with a deep cross from the right flank and was seemingly everywhere in Baku.

The Manchester City defender recorded 121 touches and 77 successful passes – both game-leading figures – while also completing a team-high four tackles in a complete showing.

Awful Alasgarov

Namiq Alasgarov cut an isolated figure up top, with matters made worse by his first-half caution for a reckless challenge on Joao Moutinho.

The forward's 38 touches were the lowest of any outfield player to play 90 minutes and he only won a third of the nine duels he competed for as he struggled against Ruben Dias and Pepe.

What's next?

Portugal host Luxembourg in their next qualifier on October 12 after a friendly against Qatar, while Azerbaijan invite the Republic of Ireland to Baku on October 9.

Portugal boss Fernando Santos hailed the impact made by Joao Felix against Azerbaijan and said no conclusions can be made following his side's unconvincing 1-0 win.

Santos claimed his 50th victory in charge of Portugal in his 80th match thanks to Maksim Medvedev's first-half own goal in Wednesday's World Cup 2022 qualifying fixture at the Allianz Stadium in Turin.

The European champions managed 14 shots on target - compared to none for Azerbaijan - but struggled to find a way past inspired goalkeeper Sahruddin Mahammadaliyev.

Despite the slender nature of the scoreline against a side ranked 108th in the world, Santos insisted picking up three points in the Group A opener is all that counts.

"We won, which was the most important thing," he told RTP. "These games can be difficult.

"I expected to win more comfortably, but we must not draw conclusions. We can see what went well and didn't.

"In the first half we controlled things, though sometimes we could have built attacks better 

"I think that in the first half Azerbaijan didn't even pass the midfield mark. The team was well organised, compact, reacted well to losing the ball.

"The game was controlled, but we lacked when it came to creating certain chances.

"Azerbaijan started playing in the second half. At that moment we were not so strong in the recovery and we allowed three or four attacks." 

Joao Felix was brought on for Andre Silva 15 minutes from time and completed 12 of his 14 passes, 11 of those attempted passes in the opposition half.

Santos felt the Atletico Madrid forward made a telling impact on the game, even if it was a familiar tale for Portugal as Mahammadaliyev made a string of late saves.

"The team improved with the entry of Joao," Santos said. "There was more circulation to our play and he played a part in one of our best moves - it was brilliant."

Portugal have now won five games in a row against Azerbaijan without conceding and have lost just two of their last 25 matches since the last World Cup.

The Selecao turns their focus to Saturday's trip to second seeds Serbia, who beat the Republic of Ireland 3-2 to join Portugal on three points at the top of Group A.

Santos added: "Entering that game with victory was essential and now we are going to talk as a group and analyse the game. 

"The Serbia match will be different [to the Azerbaijan one], but I always maintain confidence in my players."

Azerbaijan had drawn their previous four games by the same 0-0 scoreline and head coach Giovanni De Biasi is taking confidence from the narrow loss to Portugal.

"I am happy and disappointed," he told UEFA.com "We tried to play our football only in the second half. Never say never, football is made of dreams and we can qualify."

Portugal required an own goal from Maksim Medvedev to help them to an unconvincing 1-0 victory over Azerbaijan in their opening World Cup 2022 qualifying fixture in Turin.

The reigning European and Nations League champions dominated possession against Group A's bottom seeds on Wednesday but struggled to create many clear-cut chances.

Azerbaijan skipper Medvedev put into his own net eight minutes before half-time following a mix-up with keeper Sahruddin Mahammadaliyev and that proved to be the only goal.

Cristiano Ronaldo fired a third successive blank for Portugal at Juventus' Allianz Stadium, where the game was being staged due to coronavirus travel restrictions, but Fernando Santos' men ultimately picked up the win.

Azerbaijan, the designated away side, had drawn their last four matches by the same 0-0 scoreline and kept Portugal's attacking talents quiet for large swathes of the first half.

Mahammadaliyev denied Ruben Neves and Joao Cancelo in quick succession, while Domingos Duarte fired wide from five yards after bringing down a chipped pass from Ronaldo. 

But Portugal's pressure told 37 minutes in when Mahammadaliyev raced off his line and punched a cross into Medvedev, the ball flying off the Azerbaijan skipper and trickling into the net.

Despite the introduction of Bruno Fernandes from the bench at half-time, the Selecao continued to toil in the final third against a side ranked 108th in the FIFA rankings.

Ronaldo was kept out by Mahammadaliyev on the volley and Bernardo Silva also tested the Azerbaijan keeper, but Portugal could not add a killer second goal.

That nearly proved costly 19 minutes from time as Anatolii Nuriev blazed over with plenty of the goal to aim for after stand-in keeper Anthony Lopes failed to deal with a ball into the box.

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