Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought up 100 games as Manchester United manager with an insipid home defeat by Arsenal on Sunday.
It was a performance that brought to an end a week that perfectly sums up his time at Old Trafford. The euphoric win over RB Leipzig in the Champions League before they were brought crashing back down to earth in the Premier League.
Solskjaer has done some good business in the transfer market since he took over but the club’s failure to fully support their manager has led to a squad still full of holes and dead wood.
Their form at home in the league this season has also been abysmal and Solskjaer is now starting to offer up weak excuses to try and relieve the pressure. Here, Scott Patterson of United fanzine the Republik of Mancunia, outlines why the club may be looking for yet another manager very soon.
With 100 games as Manchester United manager to his name, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time at the club may well be approaching the end, with the all too familiar cycle coming in to fruition again, that sees a manager make progress, be denied their first choice transfer targets and then fail to impress on the pitch. He has won more games, scored more goals and conceded fewer than Jurgen Klopp at the same stage with Liverpool but that is unlikely to save him.
After overseeing United’s improvement from finishing sixth to third last season, with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial enjoying their best season at the club under the former striker’s management, Solskjaer had clear transfer targets in mind. Jadon Sancho at the top of the list but in United’s typical amateurish approach the deal fell through after underestimating Borussia Dortmund’s resolve to get the fee they had set out from the moment the window opened.
While last minute signings Edinson Cavani and Alex Telles provide improvement to the squad Solskjaer has available, the club’s approach to transfers resembles nothing like the well-executed process at organisations like Liverpool and Chelsea.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s has took charge of 100 games as Manchester United boss but his reign at Old Trafford could be coming to an end
Yet none of this comes as a surprise to United supporters who are all too familiar with the club’s haphazard approach to everything it does. Solskjaer’s permanent appointment is as good example as any that shows the hierarchy makes decisions that no other big club in Europe would.
Solskjaer proved to be a revelation in his first few months after taking over from Jose Mourinho midway through the 2018-19 campaign. Mourinho had just finished second in the table and had recently signed a contract extension but Ed Woodward didn’t deliver the players he needed to build on this. Unlike Solskjaer, Mourinho made it very clear how unhappy he was with the restrictions to the budget, although it didn’t get him far. United suffered a poor start to the season and another campaign was left in wreckage.
Why did Mourinho get a new deal if the club didn’t trust him in the transfer market? Why didn’t he get his P45 in the summer when another manager could have enjoyed adequate time to start a rebuild in personnel and mentality? It made zero sense and United paid the price.
While much was made of United’s incredible comeback away to PSG, which saw the club become the first ever in European Cup history to overturn a 2-0 defeat from the home leg to progress to the next round, there shouldn’t have been any rush to confirm Solskjaer’s future beyond that season’s interim contract. Plenty of fans were fully supportive of the move, desperately wanting the player they had idolised to make a success of his managerial career at Old Trafford, but the owners should work in a pragmatic fashion, not an emotional one.
The club’s failed pursuit of Jadon Sancho in the summer was embarrassing for all involved
Ed Woodward has not fully backed Solskjaer in the transfer market and could be looking for another appointment soon
Some supporters dismiss Solskjaer on social media as nothing but a glorified PE teacher but this overlooks the impressive wins he has under his belt. He beat Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on three occasions last season, as well as Frank Lampard’s Chelsea, and with a squad lacking in depth he reached three semi-finals. Of course, no trophies are handed out for falling at the final hurdle, but it showed a positive direction for the team at long last. The squad ran out of steam in the final weeks of the season but still managed to become the best of the rest behind title challengers Liverpool and City.
This season has been a mixed bag for Solskjaer, with him securing wins against last season’s finalists and semi-finalists in the group stage of the Champions League, but also losing three of the six games played in the league.
While some excuse might be afforded to Solskjaer due to the lack of a pre-season and generally crazy results for plenty of teams, from last year’s relegation candidates Aston Villa battering the champions 7-2, to Leicester’s 5-2 demolition of City at the Etihad, his future is still understandably in question.
The manager has been let down by some key players, with Gary Neville claiming captain Harry Maguire’s first three performances of the season were his worst in a United shirt, Paul Pogba giving away two penalties in three games at Old Trafford, and Anthony Martial picking up a ban for a stupid reaction in the defeat against Spurs. But tactically there have to be questions asked of Solskjaer too.
The first half against Arsenal on Sunday saw Mikel Arteta’s team efficiently press and out-pass United, yet David de Gea could have napped for the first 45 minutes and still seen his team go in 0-0 at half-time. Rob Holding and Gabriel were both fortunate to avoid red cards for their repeated tactical fouls but that doesn’t negate the fact United didn’t do enough to win the game.
Harry Maguire has struggled for form and his partnership with Victor Lindelof looks weak
Solskjaer’s tactics are now being questioned after a disappointing start in the Premier League
Taking off Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood when chasing a goal was an odd move but is typical of Solskjaer getting it wrong when it comes to changing his game plan. It’s so confusing when you see how well he managed the match against RB Leipzig a few days earlier, allowing his team to absorb pressure early on before bringing on match winners Fernandes and Rashford. How can he get it so right in one game then so wrong in the next?
November 4 – Istanbul Basaksehir (A)
November 7 – Everton (A)
November 21 – West Brom (H)
November 24 – Istanbul Basaksehir (H)
November 29 – Southampton (A)
December 2 – PSG (H)
Mauricio Pochettino is still available but he won’t be forever. Even supporters who had firmly been in Solskjaer’s camp are beginning to question the long-term strategy of persisting with the inexperienced manager when a quality alternative is sitting around unemployed, other than his stints in the Sky Sports studio.
That said, despite the praise Pochettino receives for his work at Espanyol, Southampton and Tottenham, he’s still yet to win anything. Reaching the Champions League final with Spurs in 2019 saw his players massively outperform expectation, but he’s still far from a safe pair of hands.
Woodward had been keen to stress a “cultural reboot” was taking place at Old Trafford under Solskjaer, before again reverting to signing an aging player who had been offered to clubs all over Europe after not getting game time for PSG. Cavani may well succeed in ways the likes Radamel Falcao and Bastian Schweinsteiger failed, but it’s clear he wasn’t part of the plan until United grew desperate with the window closing. Woodward will be keen so stick with Solskjaer, hoping he can turn it around and not become yet another failed appointment, but you have to wonder how long he will stay committed to this approach.
After losing against Spurs, it looked as though Solskjaer would be lucky to make it until the end of October with tricky games against PSG, Chelsea and Leipzig on the horizon. The same fears are present again now after the defeat to Arsenal.
Paul Pogba is struggling to reach the heights that many expected him to at Old Trafford
Memorable nights in Europe become meaningless when United fail to back it up in the league
United’s coming fixtures will see them play Everton, West Brom, Southampton and West Ham before local rivals City come to Old Trafford. If Solskajer manages to win those games he will live to fight another day even if Guardiola does get the better of him this time around, but you could just as easily predict he will lose those games, given how erratic United’s performances have been, and he’ll be sacked.
Is there a manager out there who can close the gap between United and their hated rivals who finished above them last season? Quite possibly. But while the club is owned and run by people who don’t know football the chances of any manager, even Solskjaer’s potential imminent replacement, being able to return the glory days to United are very slim, and the cycle will start over again.
The job is bigger than Solskjaer, which everyone knew from the day he was chosen permanently, and if he can’t pick up a string of victories in the coming weeks they’ll get rid of him. But that decision won’t come close to fixing the deeply entrenched problems at Old Trafford. United fans will yet be hoping for a good cup run, although this time with a trophy at the end of it, and what already feels like the impossibility of finishing in the top four. Grim.
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