Manchester United at a crossroads under Solskjaer

Manchester United appointed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager in 2019 and it was a big call because the Norwegian had only managed Cardiff City and Swedish club Malmo.

Solskjaer was a fantastic player for United but it’s a different challenge being manager of the same club. Since taking charge, Solskjaer has achieved some unbelievable results and big wins against Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. In the 2020/2021 Premier League season, United made improvements and finished second.

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This summer, United made a couple of notable signings by bringing World Cup winner Raphael Varane, Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho and fans favourite Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford. With these marquee acquisitions, there was a lot of excitement around United’s title prospects going into the new Premier League season.

They started the campaign well with a big win against Leeds United, followed up with a draw against Southampton and a win against Wolverhampton Wonders. Going into the first international break of the season, United were in a good place having picked up seven points from the first three games.

On their return to action, United hosted Newcastle United at Old Trafford and ran out 4-1 winners, but this was the first sign of conceding a lot of chances to the opposition. In the next Premier League game they travelled to London to take on West Ham United and had to rely on individual brilliance to come from behind to get a lucky win.

Since then, United have gone backwards. First up, they hosted Aston Villa and the amount of room and chances that the visitors had in the first half was unbelievable. United should have been three nil down at half time only for wasteful finishing. This result should have been the warning signs for Solskjaer, however he didn’t change much for the next game at home to Everton.

United started this match well but as the first half went on cracks started to appear, although United went into half time with a lead. In the second half, they were caught trying to score a second goal with been disorganised Everton were able to counter attack by scoring a equaliser. Only for VAR disallowing a goal for Everton it would have been two home defeats in a row for United.

After the second international break, United faced a tricky away trip against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. Solskjaer’s team selection was surprising for this game with playing Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba in front of the back four. Pogba isn’t a holding midfielder but Solskjaer is only playing him in that position so he can get all his attacking players on the pitch at the same time. The first half performance by United in this game was good with the sides level at the break.

In the second half, United capitulated with no appetite to sprint or close down the Leicester players. United are one of the lowest running teams this season which is killing Solskjaer. Jamie Vardy had a field day against them and Leicester City could have scored six or seven only for David De Gea making unbelievable saves. De Gea picked up the Man of the Match award which shows how many chances that Leicester created, especially in the second half.

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There was a lot of questions surrounding Solskjaer’s team selection for the Liverpool game. Would he go with the same team that started against Leicester City or would he revert to Scott McTominay and Fred in midfield? Solskjaer opted for the latter and there was space all over the pitch for Liverpool. It looked like United were trying to play 4-4-2 formation and that never works when you play Liverpool.

Liverpool ripped United to shreds in the first half and went into the break 4-0 up. Something has been building at United for a while now and it showed against Liverpool that you can’t be open and disorganised against a good team.  It got worse for United in the second half as Paul Pogba was sent off, and they lost their discipline further with Bruno Fernandes and Harry Maguire lucky not to see red too

No structure and no game plan or tactics is killing United at the moment and you can’t rely on individual brilliance to keep digging yourself out of a hole in games. United’s next few games in both the Premier League and Champions League are tough, having to play Watford, Villarreal, Chelsea and Arsenal in the next few weeks. They have improved under Solskjaer over the last two years but this run of games could be the biggest games of his tenure.

De Gea is a fantastic goalkeeper but he needs to have Man of the Match performances for United to get results. Solskjaer is a good manager but if United want to return to the glory days of winning Premier League titles they will need to hire a more experienced manager. If you aspire to finish in the top four or compete for titles you need to be consistent and United need to play the same way regardless of who you are playing.

The Author

Patrick Morgan

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