Houdini Solskjaer in another great escape: Richard Buxton
United boss lives a charmed life as Villarreal win masks their state of limbo
The Schrodinger's cat paradox allows Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to live a charmed existence.
At any given moment in Manchester United's season, he is simultaneously on the cusp of glory and malaise. Such flawed nuance keeps the beleaguered Norwegian in his job.
When the end again seems nigh for him at Old Trafford, Solskjaer somehow manages to pull himself away from the brink to defy the odds, often at the last conceivable second.
Cristiano Ronaldo's stoppage-time heroics in the Red Devils' 2-1 win over Villarreal yesterday morning (Singapore time) extended the baby-faced assassin's Houdini act.
But ending a dismal run of three defeats in their last four matches merely masked the state of limbo that the 20-time English champions continue to find themselves in.
Questions abound about their current and long-term direction, after Ronaldo's late intervention denied Unai Emery's side a point in this Champions League Group F encounter.
Eight years after Sir Alex Ferguson retired, United are still lacking a genuine identity.
Never did Solskjaer's inability to stamp his authority on the team appear greater than in the signing of Ronaldo himself, as Ferguson and several ex-teammates acted as behind-the-scene conduits to convince him to make a return to the Theatre of Dreams.
That brand of chumocracy has aided and abetted the one-time Cardiff City boss, while chants in adoration of the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's exploits are already drowning out any justifiable scrutiny of Solskjaer's perennial sequence of boom-and-slump results.
Being a cult hero who took the reins amid a testing period seemingly absolves him of the same cross-examination that his predecessors often endured from the Stretford End and their former alumni, delivering their verdicts in the comfort of television studios.
Familiarity has yet to breed contempt where United followers are concerned; a mistake Liverpool previously made in granting free passes to successive members of their Boot Room fraternity that contributed to a domestic shortfall which spanned three decades.
Anfield's sleepwalk into decline became a cautionary tale in Ferguson's heyday for the traps which his own club had to avoid if they were to stay at the top of the mountain.
Now, however, it is enabling Solskjaer's tenure to avoid legitimate internal criticism, such as Jadon Sancho's failure to register a solitary goal or assist in eight appearances.
United's lengthy courtship of the forward, coupled with his £73 million (S$133.8m) price tag, means there is no hiding place for him or his manager in the same way both Angel di Maria and Louis van Gaal were eviscerated for the Argentinian's own dismal return.
Equally, Solskjaer must shoulder the responsibility for his side's failure to outnumber their visitors' 15 shots in this rematch of the previous campaign's Europa League final.
Lessons have also clearly not been learned from Gdansk in other areas, with the midfield axis of Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay again deployed to disastrous effect.
In the absence of collective cohesion, Solskjaer was forced once more to rely on moments of individual brilliance from Ronaldo and Alex Telles before him.
Not only is it an unsustainable blueprint but these escapology feats are also fast losing any earlier appeal.
United have ridden Solskjaer's nostalgia-induced rollercoaster for what will soon be a full three years, without so much as a hint of the rancour reserved for the Glazer family.
At some point, though, they will need to finally confront its uncomfortable reality.