Great Britain

Solskjaer has knack of pulling a great result out when things get twitchy but Man Utd’s next 8 fixtures are a minefield

IT wasn’t all bad news for Manchester United at the weekend.

Bruno Fernandes ‘did great numbers on social’ by humbly apologising for his injury-time penalty miss against Aston Villa — attracting 1.25million ‘likes’ on Instagram.

In the absence of any trophies in the last four seasons, this kind of thing is regarded as a great indicator of success in the United boardroom.

Fernandes, who had scored 21 of his previous 22 spot-kicks and ‘won’ a fair few of those himself, expressed remorse in a 187-word classic of the needless-humility genre.

They will be selling sackcloths featuring United’s club crest in the Old Trafford megastore before long.

Cristiano Ronaldo, with an inferior penalty record to his Portuguese compatriot, is now expected to take United’s next one.

And just imagine the numbers  if Ronaldo, with 349m Instagram  followers, were to miss it and write a tear-stained post himself.

It was an extraordinary piece  of comic timing for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to suggest a Jurgen Klopp moan from last season was to blame for his side not getting penalties, then United promptly being awarded a dodgy one, only for the normally-reliable Fernandes to row-Z it.

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Sir Alex Ferguson would remind his protege that the first rule of mind games club is ‘never bite back at mind games’. And certainly not a mind game which Klopp had probably forgotten he’d even played.

Should Solskjaer ever head down the final straight of a  title race, such a schoolboy error is likely to spurn a million memes and send him into Kevin Keegan ‘I’d Love It!’ territory.

So, did the presence of Ronaldo  — who expects to take penalties to boost his already ridiculous goals tally — get into  Fernandes’ head?

Perhaps, but more likely it stemmed from the increasingly panicked and unstructured United performance as they failed to break down Villa, both before and after Kortney Hause’s late winner.

In stark contrast to Fernandes’ OTT social-media violin concerto, Solskjaer again blamed the match officials for his team’s defeat.

The Norwegian made a spurious ‘two wrongs should make a right’ argument when a Villa player who wasn’t interfering with play was not adjudged offside, after a Leicester player was wrongly penalised for the same non-offence at Brighton.

Apparently, we just want  ‘consistency’ from refs — even if it’s consistently wrong.

Spurs away is the nearest thing to a banker

United have  lost three matches in four — away to Young Boys  and at home to West Ham and Villa,  winning the other thanks to David de Gea’s injury-time penalty save.

Solskjaer has an uncanny knack of pulling a great result out of the fire when things  get this twitchy.

But United’s next eight fixtures resemble a minefield — Villarreal, Everton, Leicester, Atalanta, Liverpool, Tottenham, Atalanta again and Manchester City — with Spurs away the nearest thing to a banker.

After that shock defeat by Young Boys in their Champions League opener, United face last season’s Europa League final conquerors Villarreal at Old Trafford tomorrow.

The Spanish visitors, just like Italians Atalanta, are not the  grandest of historic names.

But they are exactly the sort of brilliantly-run small-town outfits which caused United and their  weaselly co-conspirators to wet their pants and attempt a breakaway European Super League.

Both are dangerous opponents - Villarreal well drilled by Unai Emery, Atalanta a thrilling, fearless side who reached the Champions League knockout stages for the past two seasons.

This is still a team without a top-class holding midfielder or right-back

Solskjaer dare not  fail to get out of that group after United combusted at the same stage last term.

United have not reached a  Champions League semi-final for more than a decade and with Ronaldo in situ,  need to advance to the latter stages this time.

Ronaldo has scored four in as many games and  signing  one of the greatest players of all time will always have more pros than cons.

But the triumphalist air which surrounded his homecoming — when Solskjaer’s side laboured to overcome Newcastle for 80 minutes — always seemed overblown. This is still a team without a top-class holding midfielder or right-back.

Jadon Sancho, the £73m summer signing, is yet to convince, despite Ronaldo’s return providing him with  useful shade from the limelight.

This is also a team with a manager who fails to convince as an elite operator in his words or  actions.

These next eight games are big for Solskjaer. But imagine the  numbers United would do on social if they ever sacked him.

FAIR DO TO FANS

WHEN Tottenham played Arsenal in a pre-season friendly, Spurs fans gave Bukayo Saka an impressive standing ovation, following the abuse the Gunner suffered in the wake of his Euro 2020 penalty miss.

And before Sunday’s North London derby, the minute’s applause to mark the death of Spurs’ greatest goalscorer Jimmy Greaves was utterly wholehearted.

Perhaps this says something about two of football’s undoubted good guys.

But perhaps it should remind the authorities that the vast majority of football supporters are decent folk.

And that they should be treated as such — free to stand safely, and drink beer, during matches.

MIDDLE GROUND

YES, we can all turn up our noses at the investment from questionable Middle Eastern regimes, which have funded the rise of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

But let’s not pretend these were two Mickey Mouse clubs before the money rolled in — City had 30,000 crowds for third-tier matches and PSG v Marseille was always the biggest club match in France.

Enjoying Pep Guardiola’s entertainers taking on Lionel Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Co tonight, and being concerned about ruthless ‘sportswashing’ regimes, should not be mutually exclusive.

NUNO WOE

UNDER Nuno ‘Dispirito’ Santo, Tottenham have let in three goals in the final 14 minutes at Crystal Palace, three goals in the second half against Chelsea and three goals in 22 minutes at Arsenal.

This is the pattern of a team lacking motivation and unity.

Sunday’s opponents Aston Villa appear polar opposites.

CANU DO THE JOB?

EMMA RADUCANU admits she had a ‘tough conversation’ with coach Andrew Richardson when the 18-year-old Brit sensation sacked him.

That’s hardly surprising, as the decision came just a mere fortnight after her phenomenal US Open triumph at New York’s Flushing Meadows.

And if masterminding the single most astonishing achievement in British sporting history isn’t enough to keep you in a job, then let’s not hear any more from football managers talking about unrealistic pressures.

KNOCKOUT VENUE

APART from the magnificent Oleksandr Usyk, the other winner from Saturday night at White Hart Lane was the venue itself.

Tottenham’s newish home looks impressive enough when hosting football matches but, under lights for a big fight, the place looked, and sounded, spectacular.

It was just a shame that crowd favourite Anthony Joshua — who fought the Ukrainian underdog Usyk under the Spurs-inspired banner ‘Dare To Do’ — didn’t dare to do anywhere near enough.

RYDE ALONG

WE always imagine the Sunday singles at the Ryder Cup to be one of the most  gripping and dramatic days in the sporting calendar.

Yet only two of the last nine contests between Europe and America’s finest have been remotely close.

And only one of the last eight have produced an away victory.

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TUCH AND GO

JUST as Pep Guardiola should never have gone into the Champions League final against Chelsea without a holding midfielder, neither should Thomas Tuchel have faced Manchester City on Saturday with three of them.

Tuchel was more willing than Pep to admit his mistakes.

And he surely won’t bench Kai Havertz again for a big game.

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Watch ruthless Aston Villa fans troll Cristiano Ronaldo with ‘siu’ celebration after famous win over Man Utd

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