Manchester United must focus on their second-half comeback against Atalanta rather than worry about their woeful opening 45 minutes ahead of the weekend’s clash against Liverpool, Rio Ferdinand believes.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men were rocked in the first half of their Group B fixture when Mario Pasalic and Merih Demiral took advantage of sloppy United defending to help the Serie A side take a two-goal lead into the break.
But the hosts produced a stunning second-half comeback, with Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire restoring parity before Cristiano Ronaldo scored yet another winner at Old Trafford, just as he had done in their previous European outing against Villarreal.
Solskjaer bluntly responded ‘don’t disrespect the players’ after he was asked post-match if the performance showed that his squad are playing for him.
But speaking to BT Sport after the game, former United centre-back Ferdinand insisted the players demonstrated they are ready for the ‘hustle and fight’ and must build on the emotion of the evening against Jurgen Klopp’s Reds on Sunday.
‘You have to look beyond the first half,’ Ferdinand said. ‘You would address it in the changing room but you would focus more on that second half going forward ahead of that game against Liverpool at the weekend.
‘No one could sit here and tell the public the problems are cured, and that everything is fine and rosy now, because it is not. But you have to grab on to a result like that. The emotion that you have, you have to carry that forward to lift the spirit of the changing room.
‘Ole got prickly about the question about whether the players are working for him, but that was something that had been levelled at him from different sections.
‘Today he got answer that he wanted, not that he might have been asking that question himself from the sounds of his answer, but you have to say they gave him a response that he would have been praying for before this game.
‘I think they were more connected in the second half and weren’t as easy to play through but if anyone had any doubt will these players run, hustle and fight for Ole – yes they will.
‘The nuts and bolts is they can put a shift in. People were questioning were they willing to run trough brick walls for Ole but they showed that. There was an intensity tonight. There is no better game to roll into the weekend.’
Then addressing his former United team-mate Paul Scholes – who in the BT Sport studio refused to get excited by the comeback – Ferdinand said: ‘I am not getting carried away here, but you have got to enjoy that Scholesy.’
But then Scholes countered: ‘I can imagine it being enjoyable for the fan. Coming back from 2-0 down is exactly what we wanted.
‘We watched [Louis] van Gaal and [Jose] Mourinho teams, boring, sending you to sleep, so to go from that to this is great. But remember who you are playing against, you are playing Atalanta.
‘Tonight doesn’t make any difference [to Sunday]. That first half made a difference. But it will be interesting to see what he [Solskjaer] does on Sunday.
‘Will he get carried away with the emotion of that big performance against a lower-ranked team, and say “right, we’ll go for it and do exactly the same”?’
However, Ferdinand then responded, saying: ‘You can only beat what is in front of you.
‘The confidence they had coming into the game was so shot, they were almost on their knees.
‘You know it is difficult under the circumstances of everyone pointing the finger, so to come out in those circumstances to go 2-0 down and then come back, the character and personality shown there, you have to grab on to the positive you can take to take you through to the weekend, because it is a huge game.
‘If they perform like they did in the first half they will get dusted off that pitch, but second half there is something to take into that game, surely?’