Manchester United kicked off their Champions League campaign with a dramatic failure in Switzerland, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men fell to defeat in Europe’s premier club competition once more
Certainly, there were mitigating circumstances.
After all, until Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s red card for an over-the-top lunge, Manchester United were very comfortable in their Champions League clash against Young Boys.
A vociferous Wankdorf Stadion had largely been silenced by Cristiano Ronaldo’s 13th minute opener, the Portuguese superstar bagging his third goal in two games after a magnificent pass from compatriot Bruno Fernandes; if those two are meant to be incompatible, a has been suggested, then this combination hinted at the exact opposite.
But after Wan-Bissaka’s dismissal had opened the door, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men were all too accommodating of their hosts. They tried to produce a Chelsea at Anfield backs-to-the-wall display to hold on – switching to three at the back at the break – in a bid to take the points home.
That they not only threw away their lead but managed to lose this season’s group stage opener – thanks to Jesse Lingard’s errant 95th minute backpass and Jordan Siebatcheu’s cool finish – offered another indictment of where they stand and their manager’s shortcomings.
While BT Sport’s commentators were – at 1-1 – talking about how this had been a good performance by a young side (bafflingly) and that the result was a sign of growth (really?), what was playing out on the pitch was something rather different.
Because what was actually being witnessed, was just so, so familiar.
Remember Istanbul? Leipzig?
Solskjaer himself acknowledged as much post-game: “Discipline is a huge part of the game. Aaron’s normally a very, very astute tackler, one of the best in the world, so we know we’ve given ourselves a more difficult task.
“A lack of concentration, make a mistake and you get punished, you get done.
“We did that last year, we conceded two sloppy counter-attacks against Basaksehir and lost that game, and lost this one in the last seconds. We’ve lost the opportunity to get three points.”
In Europe’s premier club competition, the Norwegian’s record as manager now stands at seven defeats in 11 outings. It’s four in his last five. It hardly needs saying that that isn’t good enough.
It’s one thing to progress in the Europa League but this is another level, even against the supposed lesser lights; that Solskjaer’s side continues to come up short is pretty damning.
The issue with which he now finds himself, and that can’t be pushed aside after splurging big money on Ronaldo, four-time European Cup winner Raphael Varane and England star Jadon Sancho, is that United have no excuses any more.
When your fans are claiming you’ve ‘won the transfer window’, you can’t point to this being a young side when you’ve put yourself firmly into what, in American Sports, is called “Win Now” mode.
SIPA USA/PA Images)
Like Lionel Messi joining PSG, Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford because he wants to further cement his legacy with more silverware. Varane has joined to challenge for titles. Thus, Solskjaer must deliver.
In Switzerland, at least there were those mitigating circumstances that help explain how the game got away from Solskjaer’s United.
But there’s a damning theme developing, one which has now greatly decreased United’s margin for error to ensure there’s no repeat of last season’s failure.
Yet in a group also containing Villarreal and Atalanta, that is far from guaranteed. And with expectations raised at Old Trafford, Solskjaer’s embarrassing record is now firmly to the fore.