Manchester United are without a trophy since claiming the Europa League under Jose Mourinho in 2017 – and maximising Cristiano Ronaldo’s ability will be key to their chances of clinching silverware this season
But there is one topic of agreement amongst the club’s supporters: there is no room for failure to win a trophy this season after their defeat in the Europa League final in May.
Winning the Premier League is no easy feat, as the Red Devils have found over the past eight years.
Sir Alex Ferguson may have led United to 13 league titles until his retirement in May 2013, but since then, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Solskjaer have failed to follow in his lead.
The most glaring absence is the lack of silverware in Solskjaer’s trophy cabinet. At least Van Gaal and Mourinho guided the team to domestic cup success in the FA Cup and EFL Cup.
United have backed Solskjaer with a new four-year deal and world-class additions to his squad this season in Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane.
With a great squad comes great responsibility and the Norwegian will need no reminders of the expectations on his shoulders after a shock 2-1 defeat to Young Boys on Tuesday.
What could be pivotal to the rest of the 50-year-old’s reign at Old Trafford is how he handles Ronaldo at Old Trafford.
Mirror Football look at four ways of keeping the Portuguese superstar on his side…
Make Ronaldo undroppable
There was a sense of frustration from Ronaldo’s point of view when he trudged towards the touchline, seeing his number shining on the fourth official’s electric board.
At this point, United were level at 1-1 and hanging on with 10 men. Ronaldo’s goal had put them in front but the hosts, armed with an extra man advantage, were growing with confidence.
Solskjaer had perhaps settled for a draw after withdrawing his star man for Jesse Lingard, but the decision backfired when the attacker’s poor back-pass handed Young Boys a last-gasp winner.
Ronaldo also looked less than pleased to have been handed a breather when his side were up against it, with a frown painted across his face, even if Solskjaer insisted it was merely about protecting the striker.
“The game had gone 70-odd minutes, they had been running a lot, both on Saturday and today,” he told reporters.
“The astroturf takes its toll as well and we wanted Nemanja’s experience to keep hold of the ball and Jesse’s legs.
“Ronaldo is exceptional… But we have to look after him as well and it felt like the right moment to take him off.”
Ronaldo is a fierce competitor and wants to play every minute. Even when the chips are down, he can produce a moment of magic out of nowhere — and taking him off would have been a relief to Young Boys.
If Solskjaer wants to keep his star man happy, he needs to ensure that he gives the Portuguese star as much football as possible; it could prove the difference in his quest for silverware.
Break at pace
Rewind to Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon for Ronaldo’s second debut and it was certainly a memorable afternoon for those associated with Man United.
Two goals on his return to Old Trafford and a 4-1 win to go with it? Solskjaer could have hardly asked for more.
A key aspect of their dismantling of the Newcastle backline was the speed at which they played with. Armed with a devastating front four of Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Ronaldo, the Magpies simply could not contain their fluid movement all afternoon.
But it was Ronaldo’s second goal that illuminated one of United’s major strengths in transitions. Luke Shaw won the ball high up the field and galloped forward, finding Ronaldo with a precise pass.
At this point, the 36-year-old was already on his way towards goal and Newcastle were left short-handed. Compare that to when they lined up against Young Boys, the Swiss side were stubborn and compact in deep areas as United pointlessly retained possession from side to side.
Utilising that speed and movement that Greenwood and Sancho can bring will be crucial to United’s potency in front of goal this season. As evidenced by his strike, Ronaldo will only benefit from being afforded such space on the counter-attack.
Consider 4-3-3 switch
As much as Solskjaer may enjoy lining up his side in the 4-2-3-1 formation, it is unsustainable when facing other ‘Big Six’ sides.
Considering that Liverpool play with a three-man midfield, Manchester City have a abundance of midfielders swirling around the central areas and Chelsea ’s 3-4-3 is solid as a rock, the double pivot cannot be trusted in such high-profile matches.
Ronaldo is well accustomed to operating as a central striker or left forward in the 4-3-3, having experienced great success in the role at Real Madrid. Likewise, at Juventus he linked up easily with Paulo Dybala and Federico Chiesa.
While Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani are sidelined, it may be the best option for United to experiment with another shape. Jadon Sancho is comfortable operating from the left, as is Greenwood on the opposite flank.
It would give United a solid base to build from in the midfield with Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba supported by a more defensive player — Fred, Nemanja Matic or Scott McTominay.
Having more than one plan to choose from will be crucial to Solskjaer’s ability to compete in those matches and ultimately, get the best out of Ronaldo
Build on Bruno-Ronaldo dynamic
Even if the statistics suggest they cannot both shine in the Portugal national team, there is nothing to suggest Fernandes and Ronaldo cannot strike up a fruitful relationship at club level.
In the 26 games they have played together at international level, Ronaldo has scored 30 times — but only three of those have been assisted by the playmaker.
Still, there have been exceptions to the rule. Ronaldo infamously missed a golden chance against Serbia in a World Cup Qualifier in March after a sublime Fernandes cross.
There are other factors at play too which have affected their relationship, with Fernandes in and out of the side under Fernando Santos.
But now they are working together on a daily basis, their partnership is blossoming, demonstrated by Fernandes’ superb assist against Young Boys with an outside-of-the-boot — or ‘trivela’ as it is technically known — cross finding Ronaldo to strike home the opener.
Fernandes recently tweeted his delight about the ‘Portuguese connection’ they have forged. Now, is it up to Solskjaer to ensure the cables don’t come loose.