Pained they may be, but comparisons can certainly be drawn between Solskjaer’s start at Manchester United and that of Jurgen Klopp’s at Liverpool.
Coming into the job
Liverpool had played eight games in the season and sat 10th. They had a minus-two goal difference, conceded an average of 1.25 goals per game and there had been an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to West Ham at Anfield and drawn with Norwich.
The fans were excited. Klopp had won the Bundesliga twice and reached a Champions League final with a young Dortmund side.
Solskjaer came to United as the club legend brought into temporarily repair the mood. Mourinho’s United had been embarrassed by West Ham, Brighton, Huddersfield and many more. They’d just been beaten by Liverpool. Mourinho was sacked. The atmosphere was terrible and the future looked bleak.
One key similarity remains. One Liverpool site wrote at the time that “too many false dawns make even the most optimistic of us sceptical.” The same can be said at United.
In Klopp’s first game at Liverpool, against Tottenham, his side ran more than any other game that season (116km compared to a previous high of 112.9km). Solskjaer’s 5-1 triumph over Cardiff just before Christmas saw United out-run the opposition for the first time in the season.
Much like at United, Liverpool had a squad “not only incapable of challenging for the title, but also the top four”. Klopp managed 30 league games that season and managed only 48 points in charge.
Olli Emerson, Liverpool fan and writer for Anfield Index, told us that fans were “content with discarding league form in pursuit of the Europa League title,” but that only made “the crushing second-half collapse to Sevilla [in the UEL final] even more disappointing.”
United managed no such Cup final at the end of Solskjaer’s first half-season in charge. Rather, they fell to a humiliating collapse with a draw to historically bad Huddersfield and losing to Cardiff.
The first full season
Liverpool took just four points from their first three games of Klopp’s first full season, just as United have done in this campaign. “An opening win at Arsenal lifted the mood,” Olli told us, similarly to United’s trouncing of Chelsea, “but a dreary 2-0 defeat at Turf Moor highlighted the many issues Klopp still needed to repair.” United’s version was defeat at home to Crystal Palace.
Liverpool found themselves “comfortably in the top three come November as newly signed Sadio Mane joined Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino to form an electric front three.” Perhaps United can do the same, but they won’t be carried by such a strikeforce, simply because they do not have one.
By the end of the season, Klopp’s Liverpool were still conceding more than one goal a game on average. Issues remained, but other things were fixed and fans were patient on the whole.
Transfers and squad
There can be no denying that Solskjaer has had a better squad to work with than Klopp did initially at Anfield. In each section of the pitch, United were superior.
Liverpool squad in October 2015
Mignolet, Ward, Bogdan
Clyne, Moreno, Enrique, Sakho, Skrtel, Toure, Lovren, Flanagan, Gomez
Milner, Henderson, Lucas, Allen, Can, Ibe, Coutinho, Lallana
Origi, Ings, Firmino, Sturridge, Benteke
Manchester United squad in December 2018
De Gea, Romero, Grant
Valencia, Young, Darmian, Jones, Smalling, Lindelof, Rojo, Bailly, Shaw
Matic, Pogba, Fred, McTominay, Pereira, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard
Rashford, Mata, Lukaku, Alexis, Martial
10 months after Klopp had taken over at Liverpool, he’d offloaded the following players: Martin Skrtel, Jordan Ibe, Joe Allen, Brad Smith, Christian Benteke and Luis Alberto.
Klopp got rid of bad players who were clearly not up to the Liverpool standard. Solskjaer did the same to an extent, but many of his sales have been very good players who have not fit in at United. It’s a small difference that highlights one of the evergreen problems at Old Trafford.
Olli Emmerson explained that, at the end of Klopp’s first season, “frustrations were focused on the biggest flaws in the Reds’ squad, much like United now.”
“Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno bore the brunt of fan criticism, making it more satisfying when Joel Matip was brought in during summer, similar to how Harry Maguire has been at United this year.”
Klopp brought in Sadio Mane, a player United, under Louis van Gaal, considered at the time. United have signed Wan-Bissaka, James and Maguire – three very important signings that strengthen the first team.
Two ruthless sets of sales and sensible purchases.
At this point back in 2016, Liverpool fans were still to be completely convinced by Klopp, but his charisma and the change in style of play meant fans were on side.
United fans are suspicious of Solskjaer’s genuine credentials, though very much supportive of his desire to play more attacking football and give young players a chance.
Tactically, the real identity of this side is far less clear than Klopp’s start at Liverpool.
There are some obvious similarities between the two starts. The comparison may be futile, but it gives some reasons to be positive.
Liverpool lost 40% less games (six) during Klopp’s first full season than the 10 during the ‘transition’ season. United lost 10 in last year’s ‘transition’ season, but there is a sense that the club will be in ‘transition’ under Solskjaer for much longer than their bitter rivals under Klopp, despite any similarities.
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