Man United boss Solskjaer must now decide who his penalty taker is

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has bemoaned Man United’s lack of penalties this season, but Bruno Fernandes fluffed their first attempt with Cristiano Ronaldo watching on – now, the Norwegian has a decision on his hands

  • Manchester United fell to a painful 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa at Old Trafford
  • Villa’s Kortney Hause gave the visitors a historic win two minutes from time
  • Bruno Fernandes missed the opportunity to equalise late on from the spot 
  • Cristiano Ronaldo was watching on as his compatriot skied his effort woefully
  • And Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now has a decision to make as to who his taker is 

As Bruno Fernandes clutched the ball and waited to take the penalty for what felt like an eternity, Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez began to work his mischief.

Pointing at Fernandes and then Cristiano Ronaldo, Martinez appeared to be asking Ronaldo why he wasn’t taking the spot-kick and his Portugal teammate was. Edinson Cavani could see what he was up to and tried to usher the Argentine keeper back towards his goal line.

It was a fair question and one that had been put to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford last month.

Bruno Fernandes missed a crucial late penalty in Manchester United’s 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa, with star signing Cristiano Ronaldo watching on

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer consoled a highly disappointed Fernandes after his emphatic miss

‘Of course I’ve had a chat with the two of them,’ said Solskjaer. ‘We’ve got two players there that I’d trust with my life to put a penalty away and that’s a great position got be in.

‘It’s going be my decision what’ll happen. The two of them will keep on doing what they do when they’re asked to take the penalties.’

Two minutes into added time at Old Trafford and we had our answer after Aston Villa goal scorer Kortney Hause handled in the box. Fernandes picked up the ball and Martinez got to work.

His intention was clear: unsettle Fernandes and get in his head. Plant a seed of doubt that he had got the nod ahead of an equally prolific penalty taker standing just yards away. The pressure was on.

Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was at it with the mind games ahead of Fernandes’ penalty

But there was mutual respect shown at the end of the game between he and Ronaldo

Fernandes had only missed one of his 15 penalty attempts for United when Newcastle’s Karl Darlow denied him in October last year. This one wasn’t even close, blasted high over the bar into the Stretford End.

Solskjaer had bemoaned the number of penalties awarded to his team this year before the match but, presented with a first opportunity of the season, it could not have been further off target.

There are those who say that Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford after 12 years has had a detrimental effect on his old club and United are better off without him. It’s hard to agree with that argument even though he was subdued against Villa.

Equally, however, it’s fair to say that his presence on Fernandes’ shoulder didn’t do his compatriot any favours. Any penalty taker needs the confidence and self-assurance to do the job, as we have witnessed from Fernandes in the past. Remember that stutter-step run and little hop before scoring? This attempt was unlike any penalty he has taken for United so far, as if he couldn’t wait to get it over and done with.

Aston Villa celebrated an historic victory at Old Trafford that saw them rise to seventh

Fernandes’ shocking penalty was totally out of character, totally changing his style 

‘It is such a fine line between heaven and hell,’ said Solskjaer afterwards. ‘Bruno is such a good penalty taker and you would back him with your mortgage. What I don’t like is how they crowded the referee and the penalty spot. They got what they wanted.’

Will Fernandes take the next one for United? We’ll see. He took the first free kick of the game against Villa and fired it harmlessly into the wall. It was noticeable that when United were awarded their next free kick in front of goal, Ronaldo stuffed the ball under his arm to make sure it was his. It would be no surprise to see the same thing happening with penalties.

Solskjaer will make that decision and it won’t be the only tough call facing the Norwegian as he absorbs a third defeat in four games. The early-season pressure is building on him now and he can ill afford another Champions League failure on Wednesday night against a Villarreal side that beat United in the Europa League final in May.

He needs Ronaldo and Fernandes on top form again, regardless of who will be put on the spot.

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