Solskjaer’s Man United are more Jekyll and Hyde than a European powerhouse
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s spell as Manchester United boss has seen several highs and lows but the one thing that’s been consistent since his appointment as permanent manager is the club’s inconsistency on the pitch.
On top of the world one week and in the deepest abyss in the next, United’s Jekyll and Hyde persona is working to the detriment of any progress and will see the pressure mounting on Solskjaer if he can’t find a solution soon.
The 1-0 defeat at home against Arsenal over the weekend was just the latest setback in a long list of disappointments that have plagued the Reds from the start of the ongoing season. The defeat means United are winless in four home league games this season, losing three and drawing one.
Their form in Europe has been better with two wins against strong Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig sides. However, every time United look like they have taken a step forward and turned a corner, another bad result seems to be just around the bend to bring them crashing down to reality.
That’s exactly what happened against Arsenal who were underdogs against a United side that had brushed aside Leipzig 5-0 in midweek. By the end of the match, United were firmly second best and Solskjaer didn’t help his own with his changes during the game.
If we are to give him credit for his midweek changes in the Champions League, then he must be held accountable for his substitutions against Arsenal before even considering whether or not he got his team selection correct.
While starting Scott McTominay ahead of Nemanja Matic in the deeper-lying role in the diamond formation can be overlooked, substituting Bruno Fernandes – the team’s most creative player – while trailing and allowing the Scotsman, who had a poor game, to play the full 90 minutes wasn’t the smartest of ideas.
Keeping Paul Pogba on the pitch for the full game was another error in judgement on the Norwegian’s part. The Frenchman put on another dismal display and was at fault for giving away a penalty, not for the first time this season.
Unfortunately for Solskjaer, the record books won’t remember Pogba’s mistake. Much to the contrary, it will say that the Norwegian was at the helm when United lost their first league match at Old Trafford to Arsenal in 14 years.
It just so happened to be his 100th game in-charge of United and one that could go down as the defining match of the Ole era. For all the big-match performances that helped Solskjaer get the United job on a permanent basis, he’s lost against Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal already this season, while drawing with Chelsea – all at home.
The big six English teams seem to have figured out how to play against Solskjaer’s United and are now making him pay. Their defeats in three semi-finals of cup competitions last year was the first indicator of United’s system being deciphered and their failure to win any of their games against the bigger sides only accentuates that issue.
That said, perhaps the most damning indictment of Solskjaer as United boss is the lack of a clear playing style under his reign. Primarily a counter-attacking team, not having an identity beyond that is simply not good enough for any United manager almost two years into his reign.
Granted that United’s problems run deeper than just the manager of the club and those on the board must also be looked at. But Sunday’s loss against Arsenal cannot be put at the board’s feet and it’s the Norwegian who needs to be held accountable for his questionable changes, if nothing else.
For what it’s worth, Solskjaer will always remain a legend of the club. After all, his winner in the 1999 Champions League club is entrenched deep in the history and DNA of the club.
However, past accolades as a player and goodwill can only take you so far without good performances. And as harsh as it may sound, if Solskjaer can’t solve the riddle that is consistency quickly then he doesn’t just risk facing the sack but also tarnishing his legacy as a Red, something that no one associated with the club will want.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Paul Ellis