Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was left to face the music after a number of his tactical decisions backfired badly for Manchester United in their Champions League opener – namely taking off Cristiano Ronaldo.
A ten-man United were drawing 1-1 with Swiss minnows Young Boys, thanks to another goal from their returning hero, when the manager decided to haul Ronaldo off the field on 72 minutes – baffling supporters and apparently also CR7 himself.
It was clear the Portuguese superstar wasn’t ecstatic to see his number raised on the sidelines, but it’s perhaps far too early in his second spell to complain, so he went along with the coach’s call and trudged off the field.
But it ultimately proved a bad call from Solskjaer, with replacement Jesse Lingard making a costly mistake that allowed Young Boys to score a stoppage-time winner and seal a famous 2-1 win for the Swiss side, and an embarrassing loss for the Premier League giants.
The humiliating defeat was branded a ‘disasterclass’ from Solskjaer, leading to inevitable discussion over his future in charge at Old Trafford.
Ahead of the match, Solskjaer had proclaimed that his aim this season was to win the Champions league, but that seemed a laughable suggestion following a woeful display that saw United land just two shots on target against a team that had to make it through qualifying to progress to the group stage.
The call to bring off Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes, easily his best goalscorer and chief creator, also put the spotlight once again on Solskjaer’s decision-making in the crucial moments, with Lingard’s under-hit back pass to assist Young Boys’ late winner only adding to his embarrassment.
Indeed, Fernandes provided the assist for Ronaldo’s 13th minute goal with a perfect through-ball, as CR7 marked becoming the joint all-time Champions League appearance holder on his 177th appearance with a strike.
It was clear after the game Solskjaer would face questions from the press about the call to take off Ronaldo, with fans surely wanting to know the answer.
But the Norwegian backed himself and defended the call, insisting Ronaldo’s game time has to be managed sensitively, and also explaining Young Boys’ astro turf pitch was also a factor.
“The game had gone 70-odd minutes,” Solskjaer explained. “They had been running a lot both Saturday and today, the astro turf takes it toll as well.
“We wanted Nemanja’s experience to keep hold of the ball and Jesse’s legs.
“We have to look after Cristiano and it felt like the right moment to take him off.”
United’s task was made more difficult by Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s reckless sending off, which left his side playing with ten men for an hour.
Still, the Premier League giants easily had enough quality to win, and Solskjaer knows it was a ‘missed opportunity’.
“It looked like it would be a well-earned point in a difficult game,” said the boss. “The sending off obviously had an impact.
“We need to win our home games now. It’s a missed opportunity tonight, of course, but we’ve still got five games to get the points needed to go through.”
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