Solskjaer must accept flak for tactical errors

Manchester United left Bramall Lane with a 3-3 draw which could have been both better and worse.

A seven-minute flurry in the second half put United within touching distance of a win which would have put them fifth, but the team was abject before the 71st minute.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to take his share of the blame for that fact, with his switch back to a three-man defence failing woefully.

Three at the back didn’t work at all

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Shorn of Scott McTominay in midfield, Solskjaer made the call to go back to the three-man defence which earned a draw against Liverpool and a win in the EFL Cup at Chelsea.


A flimsy midfield duo of Fred and Andreas Pereira was notionally offered protection by a rigid defensive structure, against a side who play 3-5-2.

But it was three against two in midfield, which saw the Blades utterly dominate the engine room and bringing Phil Jones back in from the cold proved to be as awful a decision in practice as it looked on paper.

Jones was way off the pace, bullied by Lys Mousset and offered an embarrassing lack of cover and guidance for Brandon Williams outside him.

It is hard to overstate just how bad United were for 70 minutes. They seemed utterly unprepared for Sheffield United’s high-tempo approach and much of the blame for that has to fall on the manager.

Praised against Liverpool, Solskjaer deserves flak here

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After the October international break, Solskjaer was widely praised for using the time to come up with a formation which limited Liverpool to a 1-1 draw.

In truth, a Manchester United manager worth his salt should be capable of coming up with a one-off gameplan for one of the biggest games of the season with two weeks to prepare.

But the plan worked well and a spirited performance was such a surprise that Solskjaer was granted acclaim.

This time around, Solskjaer’s masterplan was presumably as long in the planning, but failed miserably, utterly incapable of dealing with a newly-promoted side who sprung no surprises.

Only with a functional 4-4-2 did United get back into the game, and then Solskjaer went on the defensive by bringing on Axel Tuanzebe and the three points slipped by.

He got the praise against Liverpool, now Solskjaer must deal with the other side of the game after getting it so wrong on Sunday.

Most of all, he must learn from it, improve, and get it right in big upcoming games against Villa, Tottenham and City.

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Sam Preston is an NCTJ gold standard news and sports journalist who studied with the Press Association. He also has a 2:1 law with French law degree from the University of Birmingham, which included a year studying at Bordeaux Montaigne University. He is an FA Level 1 football coach who appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show in 2018 and has also written digital football content and match-day programme pieces for Colchester United, Mansfield Town and Stockport County.