Manchester United registered their first win of the current Champions League campaign with a faltering display against Villareal last night.
And United left it late, with Cristiano Ronaldo snatching an injury-time winner that will relieve some of the pressure from coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
However, despite battling to win the three points, United were second best for much of the contest and had to rely on wasteful opposition finishing and an inspired David De Gea to avoid a convincing defeat.
The Telegraph’s James Ducker has today seriously questioned whether Solskjaer has learned anything from the EL Final defeat to Unai Emery’s men back in May.
Ducker writes, “…not even a dramatic victory could mask the shortcomings in Solskjaer’s tactics…No teams with designs on the biggest trophies can rely solely on moments of individual brilliance.”
Of the Norwegian’s midfield structure, Ducker writes, “You had to wonder if Solskjaer had learned anything from the Europa League Final defeat…
“The Norwegian deployed the same midfield that had fluffed their lines in Gdansk and it was hopelessly bypassed on Wednesday night.”
Arguably United’s worst individual performance came from right-back Diogo Dalot, who had a torrid time standing in for the suspended Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
However, Ducker believes that the full-back’s struggles were a result of the midfield’s failure to wrestle the initiative away from their Spanish opponents.
“The success Villareal had in isolating Dalot … was a direct consequence of United’s failure to get to grips with (Dani) Parejo … Etienne Capoue and Manu Trugueros in midfield.
“What were Fernandes and Pogba’s roles supposed to be? And why did Solskjaer wait until the 75th minute to change anything?”
It’s both damning and in stark relief to the scenes of jubilation that met Ronaldo as he fired home the last gasp winner in front of the Stretford End.
Concern among the Reds’ fan base that individual brilliance is covering a multitude of sins will persist for as long as Solskjaer’s sides deliver such stodgy, unconvincing performances.
It’s likely that, sooner rather than later, the flaws within the current system will be ruthlessly exposed by the higher calibre of competition to come.