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24th Oct 2021

Manchester United will never get better under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Wayne Farry

That no other top six club would even consider hiring Solskjaer – never mind giving him the time he’s been afforded at Old Trafford – says all you need to know

It had been coming. Anyone who had even dared to expose themselves to a slight glance at Manchester United’s atrocious football this season knew it. They had been outclassed by Leicester City. Then they got lucky against Atalanta. But, as had been pointed in the aftermath of that Champions League comeback, once they came up against a truly good team, they would be found out as the directionless side they are.

Individual quality and moments of luck can rescue you in times of trouble – Solskjaer’s managerial record at Old Trafford has been built on it happening – but they are no substitute for a well-coached team with players who are aware of their responsibilities on the pitch.

When you look at the majority of the top sides in the Premier League – particularly United’s rivals Manchester City and Liverpool – their approaches to the game are clear. Pep’s side retain possession to try and drag the opposition out of position, creating pockets of space which they then exploit with great effect, while Klopp’s team press their opponents to within an inch of their lives, forcing mistakes and then capitalising on those mistakes with their explosive counter-attack.

When you look at Manchester United, there is no such clarity in their approach. Having previously tried to play on the counter, they appear at times lately to be executing some kind of pressing cosplay, carrying out many of the movements and actions of a pressing side, but without any of the conviction or collective knowledge required to do it properly.

That was fully exploited on Sunday by a Liverpool side not even at their best, a fact that only highlighted how bad a job Ole is doing at Old Trafford. When a team like Liverpool – one possessing a genuine tactical plan – see their performance levels drop, they have an inherent knowledge of their shape and respective roles to fall back on.

When Solskjaer’s United see their performance levels drop, they fall apart completely. Lacking confidence that their teammates will know what to do, players drift out of position to plug a hole, creating more space for the opposition. They play, as they did against Liverpool, right into their opponents’ hands.

There are some – though they are decreasing in number – who would defend Solskjaer, and say that he has built a team which went from not qualifying for the Champions League to doing so regularly. This is partly true, but they remain no closer to challenging for Europe’s top trophy, or England’s.

Does it even matter though?

Under Solskjaer, and it is something which is likely driven by United’s ambivalent-to-actual-football owners, the club seems to exist for the sake of it. They have a manager who is happy just to be there; a club legend who will not bite the hand that feeds, who won’t call for the required reinforcements.

Solskjaer knows that he would not get a job at a club anywhere near the stature of the one he’s currently at. That attitude, almost that of a permanent caretaker, does the opposite of breeding the ambition and innovation required to bring United back to a level resembling the one they made their home for decades.

While it would be nice for Manchester United fans to think that this – a humiliation the likes of which the cub haven’t experienced in a decade – may have been the final straw, it’s hard to see a board which has kept faith with Solskjaer for as long as they have changing their minds now.

Because, for them, he’s doing a satisfactory job. The club is in the Champions League, and the Glazer family get to extract millions of dollars in dividends each year. That, after all, is the purpose of their club. Their business.

Now, it would seem, the only thing that will remove Solskjaer from his role is a mutiny among his players. Pogba called last week for changes to be made at the club, without saying exactly what that change should be. Those calls will need to be louder, and more numerous, if a change is to come soon.

Don’t hold your breath.