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UEFA Champions League, Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, score, result, goals, watch, highlights, latest

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You’ve seen it all before. Two weeks ago in fact, and two weeks before that. And a few days earlier than that. But still your jaw can’t help but drop at the grandstand finale to which Manchester United games end with right now.

They’re full of drama, everything that could go wrong goes wrong, they fall into a seemingly hopeless position and then the returning hero does something incredible to save the day. Hollywood movies have been made on less. All Cristiano Ronaldo is missing is the cape.

If he did have a cape, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be holding onto it as tightly as he could be.

The Manchester United manager was glowing afterwards, perhaps more than one should considering the performance, the huge pressure he was under and the fact that his team of global superstars only just managed to scrape a 2-2 draw against the fifth best team in Italy at the moment.

“Cristiano for us is like Michael Jordan for Chicago Bulls,” he glamorised. “No one can question the character of these players. They just don’t give up and they don’t give in and they keep going.”

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(Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)
(Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)Source: AFP

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If we overlook the fact that Solskjaer is freely offering up comparisons between his erratic, problematic and unpredictable – in a bad way – Manchester United side and one of the most dominant teams in sporting history, the comparison is fair.

Like Jordan did when he was drafted by the Bulls, Ronaldo is dragging United through game after game, not knowing when he is beat and providing all-important clutch moments week after week after week.

His brace against Atalanta twice levelled the game, meaning that all nine of his goals in his 11 games since returning to the club have been to either game-tying or game-leading strikes. Every single one of them have been crucial to the result of the game.

He’s now scored five Champions League goals this season and three of them have come in the last 10 minutes of the game to alter the result to either a win or a draw.

Regardless of what you think about his defensive output and whether his presence in the team is a help or a hindrance to the way United want to play, without him Solskjaer would be toast.

Ronaldo may be United’s Michael Jordan, but Solskjaer is no Phil Jackson.

Solskjaer clearly didn’t learn from Fred’s red card last season against PSG when he left Scott McTominay to test the referee’s patience after continuous fouling even after receiving a yellow card. And his decision to throw on forgotten duo Jadon Sancho and Donny van de Beek for the last four minutes of the game was done in hope and desperation rather than with any sort of expectation or roll of the tactical dice.

Even someone of Ronaldo’s greatness can only keep being this great for so long and he only has a finite number of rabbits to pull out of his hat. For all of the drama, excitement and can’t-not-watch moments he is providing, Ronaldo is just prolonging the problem.

Since losing to Aston Villa at the end of September, the start of the nine-game capitulation to where Solskjaer finds himself now, United have won just three times and Ronaldo has been instrumental in all of them.

Ronaldo makes up for De Gea howler | 00:50

Without him, it would likely be a run of no wins in nine games, including a 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool, and Solskjaer would probably be out of a job.

Instead, they’ve picked up three wins and Solskjaer is able to point to every one of them as evidence that his methods are (slowly) working and the defeats in between are just teething issues. With every moment of Ronaldo brilliance, Manchester United’s dithering board have more reason to avoid making the difficult decision they really don’t want to make.

But like a highly-paid plasterer, Ronaldo is merely papering over the cracks. They were exposed by Liverpool and with Manchester City heading to Old Trafford on Saturday, they could well be exposed again.

“It was a little bit messy,” Paul Scholes said on BT Sport. “When (Raphael) Varane went off (injured) it seemed to go all over the place again. They were really shaky, the quality in the middle of the pitch wasn’t great again, giving the ball away far too often.

“I don’t know if Harry Maguire is still injured or has got a hangover from the Euros, but he doesn’t look right, he’s not with it at the minute.

“With a performance like that second half, and no Varane on Saturday, it has to be a worry. City will think they have a good chance of winning, and with no Varane it makes it more difficult for United.”

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Scholes’ ex-Manchester United teammate Rio Ferdinand agreed, insisting that United were in for another humiliation this weekend no matter what Ronaldo does.

“If United go out with that second half performance against Manchester City they will get slapped again, three, four, five goals,” he said. “The intensity was not there. You look at it and you say what formation are they playing?

“They were in disarray… Cristiano Ronaldo saved them in the second half.

“Varane covers both sides very well and as soon as he went off they just looked so shaky, a complete lack of confidence. They went to a four and it looked like Atalanta could get through this team at any time. United were fortunate Atalanta didn’t score any more and the great man stepped up.”

He’s going to have to keep stepping up if Solskjaer is to survive this weekend against Manchester City. You fear for what will happen if he doesn’t.

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