Manchester United manager also says Raphael Varane's hamstring strain 'doesn't look good' after being forced off in the first half of the 2-2 draw at Atalanta in the Champions League; United joint top of Group F after four games
Wednesday 3 November 2021 18:27, UK
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said Cristiano Ronaldo gave Manchester United the same kind of edge NBA great Michael Jordan gave the Chicago Bulls after the Portugal forward's double earned them a 2-2 draw at Atalanta in the Champions League.
Ronaldo's first brought United level on the stroke of half-time on Tuesday before he fired a stoppage-time equaliser to send United joint top of Group F with Villarreal.
The 36-year-old also scored in comeback victories at home against Villarreal and Atalanta, and despite United's critics claiming Ronaldo is papering over the cracks at the club with his individual brilliance, Solskjaer compared his impact to that of six-time NBA champion Jordan.
"We all have our roles and responsibilities," Solskjaer told reporters. "Of course Cristiano is a leader in the group but that's what he does, he scores goals.
"We're not happy conceding two goals - but he does provide those moments and I'm sure the Chicago Bulls didn't mind having Michael Jordan either.
"Sometimes teams have the players they have and that's why they are Manchester United, that's why they are champions at the Chicago Bulls. You just come up with those moments."
Ronaldo, who returned to the club in the summer, has scored nine goals in all competitions this season, five of those in the Champions League.
"For me, Cristiano is getting better and better for us. He's feeling better," Solskjaer added. "You know he's not had a proper pre-season, now he is getting better and better and he's feeling up to speed now."
Despite just returning from injury, summer signing Raphael Varane was forced off before half-time with a hamstring strain in Bergamo.
United have struggled without the France international defender this season, and Solskjaer says the early signs aren't good.
"First look at it, is he felt his hamstring. We have to look at him tomorrow. But he felt his hamstring as he ran tightening up. So he didn't want to risk anything. First assessment doesn't look good but we'll assess him again tomorrow and fingers crossed."
Solskjaer kept the back five that brought him success in the 3-0 win at Spurs on Saturday, but brought in Marcus Rashford for Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba in for Fred, with summer signing Jadon Sancho starting on the bench for the eighth time in the last 10 games in all competitions.
But the Norwegian defended his decisions, saying there will always be big names left out.
"I commit a crime every time I pick a team because there are always players that get left out. At Tottenham, we went with a different system. Today it was still a different system with a back five.
"Jadon [Sancho] will come good. Jadon has got a great work rate and attitude and quality. I thought he was really sharp when he came on.
"I've had so many people coming up to me and giving us support and of course both home and away you do feel that support for the team and me personally.
"It's a great feeling and I've had it since I've played. They know that all we want is for the team and the club to do well. I do appreciate it and it makes you humble and you want to do your best."
Sky Sports' Paul Merson on Soccer Special:
"It's another Polyfilla one, it's just covering over the cracks, but it's a result. They've got a draw and they're going to qualify.
"If they had lost, and they had gone and got beat by Villarreal, they were virtually out of the competition. Now you would expect them to qualify.
"As long as you've got him (Ronaldo) on the pitch, you've got a chance. They hadn't looked like scoring in a month of Sundays and then he goes and does what he's done."
Sky Sports' Nick Wright:
Cristiano Ronaldo had hauled Manchester United through their previous two group games nearly single-handedly, scoring late winners against both Villarreal and at home to Atalanta, and here he was again with his 138th and 139th goals in the competition.
The 36-year-old just loves the Champions League and he looked in the mood right from the start of this game, testing Atalanta's Juan Musso with a long-range effort inside the first minute.
From then on, however, he only appeared sporadically. Ronaldo had 50 touches over the course of the 90 minutes, but many of them were in areas in which he was unable to hurt Atalanta as United showed a familiar lack of cohesion.
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville has talked about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side playing in "moments" in recent weeks and that's certainly what happened on Tuesday night.
Their attack had not clicked as they approached half-time a goal down but suddenly Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Ronaldo combined to devastating effect, with the latter firing home from around 12 yards out.
Ronaldo used the ball efficiently when it came to him in open play, finding a team-mate with 32 of his 36 passes, but with Fernandes effectively man-marked by Marten de Roon in the second half, his service soon dried up while United's defensive struggles continued at the other end.
Those defensive struggles leave Solskjaer under scrutiny again ahead of the Manchester derby, live on Sky Sports on Saturday, but Ronaldo's late leveller was just the latest reminder that when it comes to the crunch moments, he only needs one chance.
The broader questions about the team's direction under Solskjaer must be answered sooner or later but they seem secondary as long as Ronaldo continues to conjure up match-defining moments of brilliance such as this.