Man United’s drift will continue as long as Solskjaer’s in charge


MANCHESTER — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is growing accustomed to being humiliated on the touchline at Old Trafford. Two weeks after being mocked by Liverpool fans during a 5-0 home defeat against Liverpool, the Manchester United manager was once again subjected to merciless ridicule by Manchester City supporters as his team slid to a comprehensive 2-0 defeat against their local rivals.

Solskjaer is a decent man, someone who earned the affection of United supporters during his playing days at the club, and it’s becoming painful to watch him suffer the ignominy of opposition fans taunting him with chants of “Five more years” and “Ole, give us a wave!” But unless the Glazer family, United’s owners, and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward turn ruthless during the forthcoming international break by calling time on Solskjaer’s 35-month reign as manager, the 48-year-old will limp on and experience more days like this, when his players fail to deliver against top-class opponents and his tactical shortcomings are exposed by elite coaches such as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.

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United and Solskjaer were utterly outclassed by City and Guardiola on Saturday. The final score may have been 2-0, but it could have been another 5-0 if not for the heroics of goalkeeper David de Gea. One senior figure at City told ESPN before the game that “I used to feel sick with nerves coming here, but that only happens at Anfield now.” They had no need to worry this time either.

Since losing to Liverpool, United have won at Tottenham, drawn away to Atalanta in the Champions League (thanks to a last-minute Cristiano Ronaldo equaliser) and been taken back to school in defeat to City. If beating Spurs, but losing to Liverpool and City, is good enough for the Glazers and Woodward, that gives you an indication of where the bar is now set at Old Trafford. Yet the reality is that the past two years have been no different, and the club’s decision to hand Solskjaer a new three-year contract in July was borne of the diminished standards that have now taken root.

“We are more confident than ever that, under Ole’s leadership, we are heading in the right direction,” Woodward said on the day that Solskjaer signed his new deal.

Solskjaer had not delivered a trophy for United or come close to challenging for the Premier League title when he signed his contract, yet it was enough for Woodward and the owners. But what progress has Solskjaer made, and are they really any closer to challenging for success? Results this season suggest not, but it’s a well-established pattern.

Since Jan 1, 2020, United have lost 10 Premier League games at Old Trafford, collecting 56 points at home during that period. It is, by some distance, the worst home record of the so-called “Big Six” clubs. Before Saturday’s games, City had collected 76 points at home during that time, with Liverpool and Chelsea both amassing 67 points on home turf. Spurs and Arsenal, meanwhile, have both won 61 points in front of their own fans.

Had United not embarked on an incredible 29-game unbeaten run away from home, which only ended at Leicester City last month, their home results would surely have placed Solskjaer under greater scrutiny.

Their home record against the “Big Six” is another indicator of Solskjaer’s shortcomings as a winning coach. Since Jan 1, 2020, they’ve taken just five points from a possible 27 against their Big Six rivals at Old Trafford. They sit bottom of the Big Six table — four points behind Chelsea — with City, Spurs and Arsenal all claiming 16 points in home games between each other.

Incredibly, 21 percent of United’s home defeats in the Premier League era have come under Solskjaer’s management. And they haven’t kept a clean sheet at home in 14 games in all competitions — the second-worst home run in the club’s history. Those statistics are damning of Solskjaer’s credentials, but the United hierarchy continue to suggest that he is the best man for the job.

With no trophies, dismal form at home and their title hopes gone for another season, it’s difficult to know how the Glazers can justify their patience with the manager. ESPN reported after the Liverpool defeat that several members of Solskjaer’s squad are unconvinced by the manager’s tactical ability, and results since have done little to suggest that the Norwegian has won over the skeptics.

United’s performance against City was so passive, it was as though they knew they had little chance of winning. And once they went behind in the seventh minute, when Eric Bailly flicked Joao Cancelo’s cross into his own net, it was obvious United wouldn’t win. Bernardo Silva’s goal on the stroke of half-time, when Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire allowed a deep cross to reach the Portugal international for an easy tap-in at the far post, simply confirmed City’s victory.

Guardiola’s team had 68 percent of possession over 90 minutes. United managed just one shot on target; in fact, they ended up testing De Gea more than Ederson, with Victor Lindelof almost joining Bailly in the own goals with a miskick that was saved by De Gea.

It was a mess, one that grew when Solskjaer threw on substitute Jadon Sancho at half-time and deployed the right-winger out of position on the left, but that is United under Solskjaer. No discernible plan, no sense of direction, and when it comes up against a top team and top coach, it all falls apart.

The owners and Woodward may already realise this, but there is no sign yet of a change being made. The drift will continue until the top four begins to disappear over the horizon, but by then, it will be too late and another season will pass by with United treading water.

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