How much longer can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hold on to his job as Manchester United manager? With performances as bad as the one against Manchester City on Saturday afternoon, is the Norwegian’s departure only a matter of time?
This isn’t just a blip or an unfortunate run of results. It’s a widespread problem that needs solving sooner rather than later.
There were to be no Cristiano Ronaldo heroics this time around, as United were humiliated at home by one of their fiercest rivals for the second time in two weeks. And in some ways, the 2-0 derby defeat to Manchester City was worse than the 5-0 loss to Liverpool. The scoreline was not as bad, but United was totally dominated in its own backyard.
This performance merely underlined that last weekend’s win over Tottenham wasn’t a revival. It was an anomaly against a side who were in even worse form. But Solskajer is not fearing for his job. He told Sky that he does not feel he’s on borrowed time.
“I’m in good communciation all the time with the club and that’s very up front and honest about the situation,” he said. “I work for Manchester United and want the best for Manchester United. As long as I’m here, I want to do what I can do to improve this and that’s going back to what we started to look like.
“We need to be on the front foot. I can’t look at myself and say this is the way I want Man United to play.”
The systemic problems that plague this Manchester United team persist, but who is to blame? Solskjaer has previously said the responsibility for poor results lies with him and it’s hard to disagree. He looked out of his depth in his particular fight.
In the blue corner was Pep Guardiola, a serial winner who has developed a well-drilled, perfect passing team which knows how to win. Consequently, it turned into a training game, but one played to the backdrop of the City fans mercilessly mocking their United counterparts. Solskjaer sat helpless in the red corner, unable to produce a meaningful response from a bunch of individuals who seem unable to play together as a unit.
“We still don’t trust ourselves with the ball and we don’t pass the ball as well as I know we can,” said Solskjaer, who also conceded that his team is not on par with the other Premier League contenders. “At the moment we are [far off]. But we’ve got to get back to what we started to look like. We started to look like a proper team toward the end of last season and the start of this season, and we need to get back to that. “
Defensively, Manchester United was a shambles, again. The back three, which had offered solidity and security against Spurs, was taken apart by smart crosses into the box and neat movement from City.
The midfield, meanwhile, was unable to get any kind of foothold in the game. In the opening 15 minutes, the visitors had 74 percent of the possession. The United players looked terrified and sat back inviting City to press them: a big mistake against such superior opposition.
For the back five system to work, they needed to be a tight defensive unit but as Joao Cancelo whipped an inviting ball into the box and Eric Bailly finished into his own net, all confidence appeared to drain away. There appeared to be no way back for United after just eight minutes of play. Indeed, this mismatch proved that the gulf in class between these two city rivals is now seismic.
Solskjaer had said in his pre-match press conference that United are still the biggest team in Manchester but while they might be far ahead when it comes to silverware won, United are no longer on the same level as City. If the Red Devils don’t make big changes soon, past victories are all the fans will have to cling to, and it was notable that “Ole’s at the wheel! was only sung loudly in the away supporters’ end.
At Old Trafford on Saturday, City was everything United wasn’t and deserved to win by more than two goals. Guardiola’s team was precise, classy, quality and moving with a coherent plan; Solskjaer’s was passive, sloppy, slow and clueless at times.
It is no wonder the full-time whistle was met by boos. The home support has not turned on Solskjaer vocally, of course, and the fans won’t. He remains a club legend for what he did in 1999, but their loud vocal backing of Donny van de Beek – a player who has been underused by Solskjaer – spoke volumes.
As Cristiano Ronaldo huffed and puffed, looking frustrated as an isolated front man with no service, one could only wonder how many goals he would have scored against United’s fragile defense if that move in the summer had ended in him wearing blue and not red.
Did he make the wrong decision? If he was intent on winning things, then it would seem so, because United aren’t going anywhere under the current management.
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