Ever since he took over the Manchester United job, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been under immense pressure and scrutiny. In the past, he’s turned things around when it looked like the end was near, but can he continue to perform magic tricks?
Questions have been raised regarding Solskjaer’s managerial ability over the past few weeks following a draw to Everton, loss to Aston Villa, and crushing 5-0 defeat at the hands of local rivals Liverpool FC.
This United team has shown promising signs of progress over the past few years but it seems to have ground to a sudden stop. Defensively shambolic and lacking any real presence in the midfield, what does Ole need to do to turn it around?
First, let’s take a look at what the manager has already achieved with the club and how this affects his current situation.
Originally Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as caretaker manager of Manchester United following the departure of Jose Mourinho. With Mourinho being one of the most successful managers in world football, it was expected that he would take the club further than he did.
Mourinho managed to win the Europa League, League Cup, and Community Shield at Man U but was dismissed after a poor run of games.
After Mourinho, Van Gaal, and Moyes failed to deliver what the board wanted, perhaps they thought it was time to appoint someone closer to home. Solskjaer is widely considered to be a Manchester United legend, scoring many important goals for the club.
He is beloved by the fans, and this is always a risk when appointing former players to managerial positions. The love of the fans will carry them so far, but how long before the relationship turns sour?
Solskjaer’s first game in charge saw the Red Devils score 5 goals, beating Cardiff City 5-1. This was the first time the team has managed to score a tally like this since Alex Ferguson left his role as manager.
Ole then took the team on an undefeated run of impressive results, beating club records along the way. Winning 14 out of his first 19 games in charge, Solskjaer signed as permanent manager in March 2019.
Fans were hopeful that this would mean the end of the team's struggle. It was time to put their faith in a project.
During his first full season in charge, the team reached three semi-finals and finished 3rd for only the second time since Alex Ferguson left the club. There were some rocky patches along the way, but things seemed to be getting better.
As with any manager, questions had been raised regarding Ole’s ability to steer the ship to brighter shores.
This came to the fore during his second full season in charge when Manchester United suffered their joint heaviest loss in the Premier League in a 6-1 game against Tottenham Hotspur.
Crashing out of the Champions League during the group stages, they went on to reach the Europa League final. They then lost to an arguably inferior team in Villareal.
Despite this, they finished as runners-up in the Premier League this season. As with all of Ole’s seasons so far, it was full of ups and downs.
After several successive poor results, it seems unlikely that Manchester United can rejoin the title race at this point. Small margins are very important when it comes to league titles and with Chelsea 8 points ahead of them in the table, the gap is now incredibly hard to close.
But could Ole redeem himself? If he’s going to keep his job then the results need to start changing now. Manchester United is still in the Champions League, and it’s perfectly possible that they could go on to win it if they start performing well.
With a hugely talented squad featuring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Jaden Sancho, Raphael Varane, and Edison Cavani, there’s no reason why Man U can’t still get something out of this season.
The first thing Ole needs to do is rectify the disconnect between attack and defence. He’s tried numerous combinations in midfield but always seems to revert to a partnership of McTominay and Fred. Whilst these players are able to perform in certain games, many pundits believe they don’t do enough to cement themselves with any real presence on the pitch.
This was highlighted in the 1-1 draw against Everton when Fred was muscled off the ball twice by Demarai Gray. This resulted in a beautiful run in which Gray passed to Doucoure, who then laid the ball at the feet of Andros Townsend. Townsend scored with ease.
What we saw in this particular example was a counterattack in which Manchester United's defence was left completely clueless, essentially chasing their own tails.
Luke Shaw is one of the most talented defenders in the country and some pundits pointed out that he looked like he had forgotten how to play.
Solskjaer needs to address this issue immediately. Perhaps this means playing a more defensive style of football whilst allowing talented attacking players to play with more freedom, safe in the knowledge that losing the ball won’t result in a goal for the opposing team. Within their ranks, they have enough firepower to do this.
Ole has often been called a master of comebacks. But surely a team chasing the league shouldn’t have to rely on “coming back” repeatedly in order to achieve anything? Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea are all far too good to leave things to chance.
One thing is for certain, Solskjaer has a big job on his hands. But lest we forget that Alex Ferguson took 4 years to win a trophy at Manchester United and many fans called for him to be sacked before the years of success he brought them. Only time will tell what Ole can do.