Manchester United

Man Utd's sliding doors day ends with Cristiano Ronaldo sparing their blushes again

Sean Walsh
Solskjaer lives to fight another day
Solskjaer lives to fight another day / Chloe Knott - Danehouse/GettyImages
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A week is a long time in football. Just seven or so days ago, Manchester United were in the midst of the biggest crisis in their modern history after losing 5-0 at home to Liverpool.

For all the world it looked like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was going to be sacked as manager and replaced by the out-of-work Antonio Conte.

But United chose to stick when a lot of other clubs would have instead opted to twist. Solskjaer remained in charge, and his tactical tweaks helped them to a 3-0 win at Tottenham on Saturday.

And then the plot thickened.

That result was the final straw for Nuno Espirito Santo at Spurs, and he was sacked on Monday. By Tuesday morning, Conte was unveiled as his successor.

It's an appointment that has galvanised the north London fanbase, that puts Spurs - only five points behind fourth-place West Ham, still just two behind Man Utd - in a great position to turn their season around and qualify for the Champions League. One of the three best managers in world football is now in charge of one of United's direct competitors.

With his most likely replacement out of the running and a win at the weekend to boot, pressure looked to have eased on Solskjaer. And then Manchester United Football Club had to play a game of football against a half-good team again.

The Red Devils were second best for much of their 2-2 draw with Atalanta on Tuesday night, with a brace from Cristiano Ronaldo rescuing a point and ensuring qualification to the last 16 remains in United's hands.

Should they have fallen to defeat (which was probably what they deserved), United would have been in a scrap to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League for a second successive season.

Hell, they'll still be in one if they fail to beat Villarreal later this month. Once again, the 'winners' of the Premier League summer transfer window have looked incredibly underwhelming.

Atalanta operate on a budget the fraction of United's - it's comparable with most Championship teams, let alone Champions League sides - but they showed their history-draped visitors how a functioning football team is supposed to play. Solskjaer admitted post-game that United only had one real moment where they looked like the team they should be.

Ronaldo also stressed the need for time for United to gel and adapt. But there's still few signs of progress for a team that's in 'win now' mode.

In the summer, United signed a five-time Ballon d'Or winner to lead the line, one of the best centre-backs of his generation, and one of the brightest young stars in the game. It's not as if they're rebuilding, ripping the core up and starting again - this was meant to be the year they bridged the gap and became genuine title contenders.

But they'll need to hit top form to even avoid the Europa League this season and next.

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