United’s squad is embarrassingly short and results show no sign of improving, says Scott Patterson, author of The Republik of Mancunia blog
Manchester United’s form with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer resembles what you would expect from a team aiming to avoid relegation.
We find ourselves two points above the drop zone and five points outside of the top four.
If we get a few good results on the bounce under our belts, the position could appear entirely different, but looking at their performances this season, it’s hard to see where the next win is going to come from.
It’s such a stark difference from the opening day of the season where Solskjaer’s side thrashed Chelsea 4-0.
It was a game where everything went their way, with Marcus Rashford looking ready to take on the No 9 role after scoring twice, Anthony Martial putting in a shift that was reminiscent of his first season at the club, and even young Daniel James scoring on his debut.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer apologises to the Man United fans after their 1-0 loss at Newcastle
Dejected United players at St James’ Park during their third league loss of the season
Paul Pogba was at his creative best, assisting two goals, while Scott McTominay recovered possession more than anyone on the pitch, Aaron Wan-Bissaka won the most tackles and Harry Maguire made the most interceptions, blocks and clearances.
We’d been worried that the club hadn’t recruited adequately in the summer. Despite the fact that the issues in defence were being remedied at long last, after large fees were paid for Maguire and Wan-Bissaka, there seemed to be gaping holes in other areas.
Allowing two experienced midfielders, in Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini, as well as two experienced forwards, in Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, to leave the club with Championship player James the only addition, looked like dreadful decision making.
United’s current poor form is a far cry from their opening day 4-0 demolition of Chelsea
A thrilled Solskjaer during the opening day win over Chelsea at Old Trafford in August
But after the Chelsea result, there was hope that the wave of positivity that arrived with Solskjaer last December was making another appearance.
It wasn’t to be.
The results and performances have been on the decline ever since. Who would have thought the fan base would be longing to have those departed players back on the pitch?
The truth is, Fellaini wasn’t good enough and while Herrera was better, he still wasn’t the calibre of midfielder that we had become accustomed to at Old Trafford over the years.
United have allowed Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera to leave without replacing them
Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku were allowed to leave for Inter without being replaced
But looking at the current squad, which midfielders have played better than those two did?
McTominay has promise but the jury is definitely still out on whether he’ll ever be good enough for a team that is supposed to be challenging for the title.
Fred has been awful, Nemanja Matic even worse, and the result has been our midfield being overrun every game.
Up front, United are embarrassingly short, with all hopes resting on the shoulders of 18-year-old Mason Greenwood, who hasn’t even played 100 minutes of Premier League football yet.
Selling Lukaku wasn’t the problem but failing to replace him, as Ole claimed we would have to back in July, has cost us.
We’re all well aware of his disappearing act in big matches, scoring just once in 20 games against top six opposition, and the fact he managed just 15 goals in 45 appearances last season, but having a Lukaku is better than not having a Lukaku, and that’s what United have been left with.
A striker capable of scoring 20 goals in a season was allowed to leave the club and they opted not to replace him.
Marcus Rashford cuts a dejected figure during a poor performance at St James’ Park
The first choice team is lacking in so much quality, so the line-ups Solskjaer has been left picking after the injuries started totting up is depressing to watch.
With every passing week, the manager has seemingly been greeted with more bad news. First choice full-backs Luke Shaw and Wan-Bissaka are ruled out with injury, as is the only creative element of the midfield in Pogba.
Martial has been missing since the third game, after scoring twice in the opening two matches. What already looked to be a threadbare squad has been exposed dreadfully.
After the transfer window closed, United’s squad was weaker than the one that finished sixth last season, and it’s no surprise their current league position reflects that, especially following the injuries to key players.
18-year-old Mason Greenwood has been left to lead the line alone amid an injury crisis
However, that’s not to say that Solskjaer is let off the hook. There are certainly mitigating factors contributing to the poor results since his permanent appointment, and fans can be glad he shifted some of the deadwood that previous managers strangely relied upon, but he has to shoulder the blame too.
Why does he stick with the likes of Juan Mata and Fred, despite their dismal showings week after week, instead of throwing in Angel Gomes or Jimmy Garner?
Surely they can’t be any worse but there is the possibility of them being better. Even if they’re not, Solskjaer will be giving them minutes to contribute to the possibility of them one day being good enough.
Imagine how demoralising it must be sitting on the bench, or not even making the match day squad, and watching Mata run through treacle or Fred give the ball away time and again.
Isn’t Solskjaer supposed to be the manager to promote youth?
Fred continues to perform badly in United’s midfield but Solskjaer is still playing him
Greenwood has looked the most dangerous attacking player United have but he’s typically given a go once United are chasing a result, rather than being used from the start and given the time to settle in to the game.
Solskjaer may already be on borrowed time and whispers from the club suggest that his time could be up if he suffers the humiliating defeat against Liverpool we’re all expecting, given the gulf in quality between the two squads and playing style.
When he was appointed after the incredible come back against PSG, the almost unanimous thought was United had no other choice, but that was wrong.
After years of disastrous decision-making, United were so close to getting it right. They sacked Jose Mourinho when his position became untenable and made a sensible interim appointment.
Solskjaer had worked under Sir Alex Ferguson, possessed a great understanding of the club’s values and had enjoyed success in the past, albeit in Norway.
Solskjaer celebrates after United’s astonishing win over Paris Saint-Germain back in March
Man United fixtures
October 20 Liverpool (H)
October 24 Partizan Belgrade (A)
Europa League group stage
October 27 Norwich City (A)
October 30 Chelsea (A)
Carabao Cup fourth round
November 2 Bournemouth (A)
November 7 Partizan Belgrade (H)
Europa League group stage
Winning the first league titles in Molde’s entire history suggested he had enough about him to be worth the risk on a short-term basis. And he was.
Yet as close as United came to functioning in a way all other big clubs do, they bottled it at the last minute, and made the rushed decision to give Solskjaer the job.
What harm could have been caused by allowing the season to end and evaluating Solskjaer’s performance then, when undergoing a normal recruitment process that included talking to managers with the pedigree expected for a club like United?
There was hope that having the manager’s position clarified could help convince David de Gea to extend his contract ahead of the summer and for transfer targets to be secured early enough to allow them to take part in the pre-season tour and hit the ground running.
Instead, De Gea’s negotiations continued through to this season and James was the only player to sign early doors, but he would have likely joined the club whatever the managerial situation was.
Maguire ended up signing at the end of the summer, after United stalled on paying the figure Leicester had quoted since the window opened, only to meet the asking price once the tour had finished.
Ed Woodward’s decision to rush into appointing Solskjaer full-time has to be questioned
Essentially, United gained nothing positive from the early decision on Solskjaer, and are now left again looking like amateurs again as the Norwegian looks painfully out of his depth.
Solskjaer said he wanted the hardest working team in the league and an intense pre-season was supposed to enable that.
But Steve Bruce’s Newcastle, whose morale was as low as it could be ahead of Sunday’s game, outfought United in the 1-0 defeat. And whatever is going on at Carrington, it hasn’t prevented United from picking up a ridiculous number of injuries.
There are suggestions the players are less than impressed with Solskjaer’s training methods as they appear to be downing tools like they have done for the all the failing managers before now.
If Solskjaer can cling on until January, United will have no choice but to pay over the odds for the midfielders and forwards they’re crying out for. But to get to that point, several things will have to change.
United desperately need Paul Pogba to return soon and find some of his best form in midfield
Pogba has to play further up the pitch, the injured players have to return sharpish, and he needs a big win under his belt to restore some of the faith the squad and fans had in him during those opening months of his tenure.
There is certainly weight to the argument that United won’t get anywhere sacking managers every other season, but that only applies if they have the right man in charge. Solskjaer did enough to convince the owners that was him, but now it’s beginning to look as though that faith was misguided.
We all know that the blame for United’s predicament now, and in every disappointing season since Ferguson’s retirement, lies on the Glazers’ doorstep.
While they continue to run the club as they do, it’s hard to imagine any manager enjoying success at the club. Yet Newcastle away was the first time this season any audible chants against them were heard.
Mourinho was mocked for hailing finishing second as a great achievement in 2018, after winning two less prestigious trophies the year before, but begrudgingly United fans are having to accept that he was right.
This team looks light years away from ever competing for a title again and supporters understandably have no faith in the Glazers being able to make the decisions required to reverse the club’s fortunes.
That euphoric night in the Parc de Princes feels like a lifetime ago and it’s looking increasing unlikely that Solskjaer will have the opportunity or ability to recreate anything like it as the United manager.