Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised the overall impact of match-winner Cristiano Ronaldo as Manchester United roared back to beat Atalanta on a night when poor defending threatened to cost them.
Solskjaer and his side were the subject of intense scrutiny in the build-up to Wednesday’s Champions League group game after defeat to Leicester and a run of just one win infive matches in all competitions.
United were facing a fifth loss in eight matches when Mario Pasalic and Merih Demiral capitalised on lax defending to give Atalanta a two-goal lead, leading to boos from some fans at Old Trafford at half-time.
But Solskjaer’s side showed their ability to fight back once again, with Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire scoring before Ronaldo headed home to make it 3-2.
‘First half we played some good stuff’
“That’s football,” said Solskjaer when asked about costly first-half errors being followed by a storming comeback.
“First half I thought we played some good stuff. Our finishing wasn’t good enough. They had two chances and in those two moments, yes, we switched off and we conceded two easy goals. Then in the second half David (De Gea) makes two fantastic saves.
“The difference in performances is not that great and that’s what decides the outcome – it’s the quality and the quality of the finishes we had.
“The second half was much better than the first because we created many chances in the first half as well. But I can understand why people who don’t really watch every game see the inconsistency and within that game of course going 2-0 down it looks really bad. But the performance wasn’t 2-0 down worthy and that was the message at half-time.
“Keep going like this, just add more quality in your finishing, get an extra pass off and of course make sure we don’t concede a goal.”
Ole on Ronaldo: ‘That’s what he does better than most’
United’s defensive drama is nothing new – this was the 19th time in 20 matches they failed to keep a clean sheet – nor was Ronaldo proving the hero.
The Portugal forward’s role has come under scrutiny of late but Solskjaer was delighted with his former team-mate’s display.
“I was really, really pleased with how he led the line,” the United boss said.
“As a centre forward we asked him to run the channels, drop in, press more because we’re at home, of course. We want to get the crowd behind us.
“Even he was down inside his own six-yard box towards the end defending, you could see him sprinting. He did everything a centre forward should be doing, leading the line and defending.
“If anyone wants to criticise him for work-rate or attitude, just watch this game. Watch how he runs around.
“And of course the goal is just what he does better than most. The header is not on a par with his Roma one but he’s still got a leap and timing like no-one else.”
If anyone wants to criticise him for work-rate or attitude, just watch this game. Watch how he runs around.
Solskjaer hails ‘massive’ victory
At 2-0 down, United were heading for bottom spot in the group but the turnaround means they are now in an excellent position to qualify for the knockout stages with three games left to play.
Solskjaer hailed the comeback victory as “massive” in the context of the group.
He said: “I’ve said if you win your home games and get results away from home, you’ve got a good chance of going through.
“Tonight was a massive result. We got off to a slow start with the Young Boys game and, if we’re being honest, the red card has changed the game so that was disappointing.
“We didn’t play well against Villarreal, but we got the three points and dug in and I think tonight was a special night in terms of the togetherness, the spirit, the fight that we showed in the second half to keep believing and to keep pushing.
“Like I said, the fans gave us that. The energy that we felt from the fans in the second half was incredible.”
Ole on the United fans: ‘They always turn up’
Man Utd boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:
“It’s just belief, that’s what it comes down to, with the crowd and they sensed it in the second half with how the players came out. I said it before the game, if we go out there and give everything for the team, we will have the crowd behind our backs. They always do here. They always turn up, the singing end and the Red Army were unbelievable.”
‘Rashford should be fit to face Liverpool’
United are now preparing for Sunday’s Premier League encounter with rivals Liverpool – a match Rashford needs assessing before having received a dead leg.
“I don’t know,” Solskjaer said of his availability for the weekend.
“I hope so and I think so. It’s a dead leg and sometimes that can take longer than what you want but if we treat it well he should be OK.”
Atalanta boss Gasperini left frustrated
Atalanta head coach Gian Piero Gasperini was understandably frustrated to leave Old Trafford having been in control at the break.
“Against this team, one moment is enough to change things,” he said.
“I think that had we scored a third – and we went close – we could have won.
“We were missing a few players, but those who played did well. We knew United were strong. We learn from these matches, but at some point we want to stop learning and do more.”