16: Manchester United’s current position in the Premier League after three rounds of fixtures.
However shallow the position may look, it is safe to say that Manchester United are actually fortunate enough to gather three points from as many games so far this season. They have been thwacked by Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur, and it’s a rightful notion that they didn’t deserve the points they won against Brighton at the Amex Stadium in September.
The Manchester United backline has shipped in 11 goals in their opening three Premier League games, a figure that took them 11 games to reach last season. It wasn’t until their meeting with Bournemouth in November 2019 that they equalled the numbers.
The shrink in both attack and defence is worrying for Manchester United especially at the time when their rivals have spent a bucket load in bringing in suitable reinforcement.
“We know we lack one, two, three players to be considered a title contender and some experience. We know that," manager Ole Gunnar-Solskjaer had said following their 2-0 win over Manchester City at Old Trafford last season. Make no mistake, United’s form was rightfully worrying their opponents. In fact, they didn’t lose a single game in their last 14 league matches of the 2019-20 season (W9 D5), but as the season progressed, they became easier to read.
It is clear that while their attack is bearing no confidence this season, the defence has crumbled to a greater extent, and all that puts Ole Gunnar Solskjaer under immense pressure. He may well and truly be one of the first managers to lose his job this season given how greatly the rumours of Mauricio Pochettino are doing rounds, but is the Norweigan the only one to blame?
Solskjaer is just a scapegoat
Manchester United finishing third in the 201/20 season gave the club faithful enough rationality to believe that the club was finally moving forward. All that, however, was put to rest once the 2020/21 summer transfer window slammed shut and United ended up signing just three senior team players in Donny van de Beek, Alex Telles and Edinson Cavani.
For Solskjaer, he was pretty clear about blueprint; an idea of building a team around youth, something where Cavani doesn’t fit. The Norweigan, for all we know, was quite comprehensible about getting Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund. Now, there are several facets to why the deal didn’t go through.
In Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and a commanding centre-back, Manchester United missed out on every single one of Ole Gunnar Solskjær's targets this summer— utdreport (@utdreport) October 7, 2020
For the starters, let’s establish that the United board was lazy in their approach. They didn't acknowledge Dortmund's 10 August 'deadline’ to complete the deal and waited for the final hour to see if they can break the Germans’ resolute. That was never going to happen though as Dortmund were firm on their £108m valuation of the player. Spending that kind of money in the current financial climate is certain to cause anxiety, but bear in mind that the player in question is just 20 years old and would have brought in so much more to this club.
Their incompetent approach despite the winger agreeing to the personal terms affected several facets. United simply had no plan B in their negotiation, and in the midst, they failed to find suitors for the fringe players, eventually ending up hammering the axe on their own foot.
Furthermore, if reports are to be believed, Solskjaer had further highlighted Aston Villa captain jack Grealish and RB Leipzig centre-back Dayot Upamecano, but the board failed to bring any of them.
The problems at Manchester United go deeper and way back to the time the Glazer family completed its takeover (2005). For the first time in the club's history, the Reds Devils were loaded in £525m of debt, and issues have been on a rise ever since. From 'Love United, Hate Glazer' slogan to the absolute mouth-thrashing of the vice-chairman Ed Woodward, fans have been quite vocal about their disliking of the board.
Playing cat and mouse
While it became evident that Sancho’s a gone case, United moved towards Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele. The problem with this deal was, in fact, the idea that the Catalan club wanted a permanent deal, while United were only offering a loan tenure. Same was the approach for Watford’s Ismaila Sarr.
Three fans with a ‘Glazers Out, Woodward Out’ banner outside Old Trafford’s players and staff exit tonight. pic.twitter.com/ePDp5BtUn9— Mark Critchley (@mjcritchley) October 4, 2020
Let’s not forget their handling of the entire Alex Telles’ negotiation. The constant back and forth with regards to the fee almost cost them the deal. It seemed like United were just hobbling around options a few days before the deadline day. The club eventually ended up acquiring Edinson Cavani - a free agent- who represents nothing but a far cry from the club which is looking to salvage a rather unproductive transfer business into a reasonable one.
While the team’s current performance is a major concern, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has inflicted a new life amongst the supporters, which was evidently missing since Alex Ferguson departed. The arrogance and incompetence the board has shown, however, puts everyone at the club in a muddle. And it is certain to backfire at a given point of time.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Oli Scarff