It’s been a decent start to the season for Manchester United, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be facing a whole new raft of questions after an abject display in their opening Champions League group game saw them get off to the worst possible start, as they collapsed to a calamitous injury time defeat.
Solskjaer has taken a while to oversee a transition in his United squad but for the first time in a very long time, he was able to make changes from what most people would say was the strongest eleven and still pick a team that looked as though it should be able to handle the task with few complications.
In came Donny van de Beek. In came Victor Lindelof, with Varane given a rest. Back came Fred.
Cristiano Ronaldo was making a record-equalling appearance in the competition and wasted little time in adding another record-setting goal to extend his advantage in that regard. Bruno Fernandes played a magnificent pass with the outside of his foot and Ronaldo anticipated the cross, getting there before the defender and squeezing the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs.
From then on United were mainly pedestrian, Ronaldo coming closest to getting a second with a stinging effort, but there was little action until Aaron Wan-Bissaka decided to get himself involved in a challenge too high up the pitch to be considered reasonable and too high up the opponent’s leg to be considered safe. Red card. Jadon Sancho was brought off, and Diogo Dalot was his replacement – a chance for the formerly highly-rated full-back to perhaps stake a claim.
At half-time, Raphael Varane was brought on for the unfortunate Van de Beek, who’d played alright up until that point – but United needed greater control and Solskjaer felt a three-man defence would aid in accomplishing that.
It did not. After a poor opening, Moumi Ngamelu took full advantage of sloppy defending from the left and got in front of Varane at the near post to equalise.
Ronaldo, a few minutes earlier, thought he had won his team a penalty when he was shoulder barged over in the box. It would have been a harsh decision to award it – but not as harsh as some of the pundits covering the game for BT Sport, who immediately began to ask whether this was proof the forward had lost his legs. This in spite of the incredible pace he showed at the weekend.
The manager’s response was to take off Ronaldo and Fernandes and bring on Lingard, and later on, Martial. These were strange decisions, none of them ever positively influencing the performance, and United seemed to be sleepwalking their way to defeat.
Miraculously, they almost avoided it, as they saw through almost five minutes of stoppage time without any major scares – that was until Lingard played a short back-pass that Siebatcheu intercepted – he then finished easily past De Gea to give his side a crucial win.
United, however, will be left wondering how this turned from a procession into a disaster, with many people to blame. The manager cannot avoid it, with his team going from looking fairly comfortable to completely unfamiliar.
It was a poor result, a worse performance and will leave the critics with plenty to feed from. United are lucky that at least one of the other group teams will drop points tonight, but this was the one banana slip that Solskjaer could afford.
That’s in terms of the group – not in terms of the critics, who are viewing this on the back of the poor managerial contribution to the Europa League final, and have justifiable questions to ask, even though United played with ten men for the majority of the game.
Those voices – even those with old connections to the club who you think might be supportive – which go quiet when things are going well, are always louder and delighted to be heard on a night like tonight.
De Gea 6
Van De Beek 6
Ronaldo goal vs Young boys (0-1) #mufc
— United Goals ⚽️ (@UnitedGoals__) September 14, 2021