Ronaldo Saves The Day
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer lived to see another day as a Manchester United thanks to his old team-mate, Cristiano Ronaldo. I don’t feel he would have been sacked had we lost to Atalanta early this morning, the pressure on him would have just increased.
Reception Of The Fans At The Stretford End
Solksjaer walked out to songs sang in the adulation of him this morning and that left me puzzled. Since this slump of results, the loudest voice and most articles have been on how he is inept and incapable of leading United to glory on social media. The fan base was being forcibly divided into Ole In or Ole Out and it appeared to me that Ole Out was winning. What I saw this morning showed that the fans at Old Trafford and in the Stretford End believed in him. Manchester United fans that go to stadiums to watch United play have been very kind and patient, unlike the vitriol you see online. You would rarely hear the team being booed off the pitch or the manager getting lambasted publically. In the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, it has happened before but not too often. I can imagine that if this was in Spain or Italy, the manager would have gotten jeered at and would need to tolerate a barrage of abuse raining down from the stands. Therefore, are the fans at Old Trafford Ole In while those that are not there, not? That show of defiance from the fans would fuel the belief in the owners that Solksjaer has everyone on his side and deserves more time to get things right. It will also give Solksjaer a huge boost and he can take a lot of pride from this reception as well.
Issues Still Prevalent
The issues from the match against Leicester City were still evident. Harry Maguire was not dropped and he has seen to be undroppable for Solksjaer since he has been signed. He made a feeble attempt to stop Merih Demiral from scoring Atalanta’s second. Luke Shaw, who hasn’t been in very good form either, too kept his place and was culpable for both goals scored by Atalanta. I don’t think anyone was surprised to see Fred and Scott McTominay reinstated into the starting line-up. Solksjaer hinted at changes after the defeat to Leicester and I thought he would change the formation but I was silly to think that; he meant starting “McFred” because they have the “legs and heart”. It didn’t stop Atalanta playing through our midfield though as many decent teams have done before. Atalanta had lesser-known players but you could see from the way they played, everyone knew what to do with the ball and everyone was so comfortable on the ball. They also poured forward in numbers whenever they attacked and this was an Atalanta team missing five regular first-team players. As Manchester United fans, we can only look on in admiration at other teams that play like that while we stumble our way through trying to find a moment of inspiration or magic.
Strong Second-Half Comeback
Our performance was better than it was against Leicester and we fashioned some chances in the first half but were profligate. We started the second half 2–0 down but astoundingly, we made no changes to the playing personnel and formation. I was disappointed but not surprised. Thankfully, for Solksjaer it worked well because the team played with a lot more energy, intensity, movement and precision. In the first half, Bruno Fernandes was guilty of a lot of errant passes in the final third. He got it right for our first goal; Marcus Rashford found his scoring boots as well and the timing of the goal was crucial. It came early enough and the crowd believed in a comeback. Maguire atoned for his poor defending with a striker-like finish for the equalising goal and Luke Shaw finally delivered a great cross for Cristiano Ronaldo to nod in the winner. Defensively, we weren’t under much pressure in the second half so Maguire and Shaw weren’t tested too much. Victor Lindelof, who has been playing well in recent weeks was turned too easily by Duvan Zapata to fashion out a great chance to make it 3–1 for Atalanta. Thank God for David De Gea as he saved that attempt and the follow up from Malinovskiy.
Papering Over Cracks
The performance in that comeback was heartening and thrilling. As I have written before in my previous article, Solksjaer always pulls a rabbit out of the hat when the going gets tough. At half-time, I had a deja vu of United’s 3–0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford in Jose Mourinho’s final season. It felt that maybe he has indeed reached his limits and there is no way back from here but yet again, he pulled something out from the deep confines of hell. It showed that the players are still with him. This win would only paper over cracks because there are still flaws in this team that were exposed and need to be rectified. It’s sad to see as well how little faith and trust he has in ALL the players in his squad. Maguire and Shaw are not playing well, Fernandes has been wasteful in possession and Mason Greenwood needs some rest but still, they all keep playing while others sit on the bench, featuring so little. These players will get burned out and when the time comes to rely on those that don’t play too often, they will be rusty. Will things change in the next match against Liverpool? I really hope so. I really hope a penny drops for Solksjaer and he can get over the cautiousness and theory of heart and legs but I am not going to keep my hopes high.