Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must have breathed a huge sigh of relief. 2-0 down to Atalanta at Old Trafford, Manchester United were staring down the barrel of another disappointing night in the Champions League, but a second-half turnaround brought the stadium to life and meant that United’s blushes were spared
First-half goals from Mario Pašalić and Merih Demiral meant the Italian side raced into a commanding position, and it was looking set to be another dispiriting result under Solskjær this season. But if there’s one thing the Norwegian has going for him, it’s his ability to inspire comebacks.
Falling behind in matches is no new thing for United, but few sides have demonstrated such character in terms of turning things round. The game against Atalanta was one of their most dramatic comebacks under Solskjær.
Marcus Rashford, having spurned countless chances already in the match, finally put one in the net to make it 2-1, before Harry Maguire lashed in an equaliser with 15 minutes remaining. From there, United had momentum on their side, and it was no surprise that Cristiano Ronaldo was the man to rise highest and head home the third goal to turn the game on its head.
Old Trafford erupted, Solskjær celebrated, and all was well again. But the reality is that throughout the Norwegian’s entire reign, it’s felt like United are hanging off the edge of a precipice. They have too many star names and world-class talents in their ranks to ever fall away, but in nearly three years, Solskjær has been unable to put a tactical plan in place that sees the team compete for football’s biggest honours.
Heading into this season with the signing of Ronaldo boosting United’s chances, the team were considered among the favourites in the odds to win Premier League 2021/22. But while Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City have all proven their title credentials so far, United have been left playing catch-up, after dropping points against the likes of Southampton, Aston Villa, Everton and Leicester City.
When you look at coaches like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, you see where Manchester United are missing out. Before taking the reins at Manchester United after the dismissal of José Mourinho, Solskjær had coached exclusively in Scandinavia, with an ill-fated tenure at Cardiff City thrown in for good measure. He may be a legend of the club, but the 48-year-old does not possess the tactical acumen necessary to compete with the top favourites in the English Premier League betting tips.
With large sums spent this summer on bringing in Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho, as well as the marquee signing of Ronaldo, the expectation has to be for United to challenge strongly for the Premier League and Champions League titles. So far, they have not shown much to suggest that either of those honours are likely to be heading to Old Trafford come the end of the campaign.
Solskjær’s tenure was encapsulated in United’s 3-2 win over Atalanta. A feeling of unease and inadequacy, which eventually makes way for relief when the team’s stars click into gear. The atmosphere at Old Trafford was buoyant, but the sad reality is that Manchester United are going nowhere fast.