The latest edition of the Champions League kicked off last night with a lackluster return to the competition from Manchester United — losing 2-1 in the game’s dying embers to Swiss outfit BSC Young Boys. The Red Devils exited the competition prematurely last season, losing on the final matchday of the group stage to enter the Europa League, where they were beaten on penalties by Villareal.
A new era looked to be upon us at Old Trafford, new signing Cristiano Ronaldo returning to his spiritual home alongside the imperious serial winner Raphaël Varane and budding young talent Jadon Sancho. That triumvirate should be enough to strike fear into even the best of sides but a mixture of tactical naivety and an avoidable red card from Aaron Wan-Bissaka left United pointless after the first game back in Europe’s elite competition.
Looking at the line-up on paper, it should have been business as usual for Ole Gunnar Solskjær, especially considering they were favourites on the betting exchange and the feel-good factor around the club after the win against Newcastle a few days prior in the Premier League. Ronaldo’s second coming was going exactly as expected — a brace on his return to the Theatre of Dreams was added to by an early goal in Switzerland to put his side ahead. However, an impetuous lunge from Wan-Bissaka reduced United to ten men for over an hour, allowing David Wagner’s side to equalise and then grab a late winner in the 95th minute courtesy of Theoson Siebatcheu.
Questions have to be asked of Solskjær, especially when a former Huddersfield Town manager, who oversaw one of the worst points returns in a Premier League season, was more tactically astute than the Norwegian. The Red Devils may sit top of the tree domestically, but they are a far cry from the finished article and while an opportunity for revenge against Villarreal and then a double-header against Atalanta may appear winnable, the way United capitulated late on against Young Boys will leave doubt creaking in.
The last thing United fans will want is to be in the Europa League again — it simply isn’t a viable option considering the talent on the books. In terms of performances, United still look a far cry from where they should be. Ronaldo and co can only do so much if they are being mismanaged, leading inevitably to fingers being pointed in Solskjær’s direction. With the likes of Antonio Conte and Zinedine Zidane currently unemployed, you feel if results aren’t turned around fast then the Norwegians days are numbered.
Despite dropping points from a winning position, Solskjær insisted a point would have been a good result until the late goal inflicted more damage on the ten men, and now looks to Old Trafford in order to pick up the crucial points required for round of sixteen qualification: “It looked like a well-earned point and a good point in a difficult game.” He said. “We need 12 points to go through. You need to win your home games, win one away from home and go through.
“A missed opportunity tonight, of course, but then again last year we won our first two games against PSG and Red Bull [Leipzig] and everyone thought we were through. So we have five games to get the 10 or 12 points.”