November 3, 2021 || 11:28 am

Chaotic Manchester United remain in thrall to strolling Cristiano Ronaldo

Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s sta’r player rescued him ag’ain but his team looked confu’sed and overrun in a 2-2 draw with Atal’anta.


The genius of the modern Manchester United is that for all the attention lavis’hed upon them, for all the ‘ analysis they attract, they rem’ain a largely unknown quan’tity. Wh’en they take the field, you g”enuinely have no idea what to exp’ect from them. And not just in terms of results, either: tactics, person”nel, effort and mood are all equ’ally unforese’eable. Th’ey are the hyperactive toddlers of English football, equally capable of moments of startling ins’ight and unfettered joy as th’ey are of throwing valua’ble household ornaments into the toi’let.


Naturally, this is a qual’ity greatly prized by Ed Wood’ward and the Glazer family, who’se entire strategy has seem’ed to revolve around reimagi’ning this working-class football club as a brandable entertainment pro’duct.


Even the fans still se’em to be on board for the time bei”ng, recognising – corre’ctly – that the virtues of a water’tight five-year plan and a cohe’rent backroom infrastruct’ure must occasionally take a back seat to the ha’ptic thrill of watching your clu’mp of highly paid frauds pull off y’et another sensational come’back.

And lo, on a chilly Lomb’ardian night United again wen’t behind, again came back, aga’in changed formations before hal’f-time, again went behind, agai’n cam’e back, again kept the United content machine well and tru’ly in business. For Ole Gu’nnar Solskjær, who has been in the”’ last chance saloon so many times he knows the bar staff by name an’d has long since memoris’ed all the questions on the quiz ma’chine, it was another night that felt like it might settle everythi’ng an’d yet seemed to settle nothing.


His teamsheet offer’ed us a handy window into the con’fusion. Four of the back 5 that ha’d served United so well against Tottenham on Saturday were in oper’ation again. So was Paul Pogba, but in a porous midfield three alongside the wandering Bruno Fern’andes and the overloaded Scott M”’cTominay. Up front Marcus Rashford played off Cristiano Ronaldo, an appropriate role for someone so used to feeding children. And so it was a system set up for defensive cover. But also domi’nating possession. But als’o playing the ball through ‘midfield. But also the counterattack.

An injury to Raphaël Varane forced Solskjær to switch to a 4-3-3 shortly before the break and, true to form, by the closing min’utes United had reverted to their def’ault of simply flinging four forwa’rds on to the pitch and letti’ng them get on with it. It worked. It will work most weeks; individ’ually Un’ited are that good. Ye’t there is a basic irony in the fact that a sq’uad assembled for domina’tion is so poor without the ball that they co’ndemn themselves to long peri’ods of being dominated.


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