“Lads, it’s Tottenham”. These were the simple words Sir Alex Ferguson famously used in a team talk to gee his Manchester United players before a victory against the North London club.
The days United could win a game before a ball was even kicked are sadly long gone.
United host Spurs this week and current boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lacks both the gravitas and track record to say ‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’ for his pre-match team talk.
Spurs are above us in the table and have a fired up Jose Mourinho returning to Old Trafford. Solskjaer is without a win in three games, while Mourinho has won his first three at Tottenham.
Sir Alex’s ‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’ team talk was so effective because the Spurs team of old were renowned for being soft. Score once against them and they will crumble.
Spurs shed this tag under Mauricio Pochettino, and sadly for us it is United who look like the fragile ones now.
Solskjaer and Maguire admissions
United have not won a game in which we have gone behind since Solskjaer was appointed permanently.
Whereas once if United conceded, the team would brush it off and blow teams away, going behind has a negative mental effect on the team.
Harry Maguire told The Mail after the draw with Villa: “We were poor after their first goal. It knocked us and we were edgy and nervous.”
Solskjaer also admitted how brittle United are right now. He told the club’s official website: “We’re disappointed with the first half especially, because I think after we conceded the goal we didn’t get to grips with the game and didn’t get our heads together as a team.”
This sounds more like ‘Lads, it’s United’, than the other way around.
Opposing teams should be taking this as encouragement that scoring first against United gives them a great chance. The fear factor isn’t there.
Sometimes this plays into our hands. We saw Norwich and Brighton go for it against us, and we took them apart on the counter attack. Mourinho is unlikely to be as naïve.
More often than not, the phrase is a haunting reminder of the dominance United used to enjoy which is no longer there.
What is really frustrating is that in the last two Premier League games, United have actually fought back from going behind for the first time this season, only to concede more goals, to end up with draws against Sheffield United and Aston Villa. Winning one of these would have given United the belief we need.
The comebacks have been a step in the right direction, but Solskjaer and Maguire’s comments highlight that there is a lack of belief within the team right now.
This stems from a lack of leaders in midfield, which could be addressed if Scott McTominay returns this week.
This problem is not exclusive to the Solskjaer era. Against Tottenham at Old Trafford last season, United were the better team before conceding in the 50th minute.
The team crumbled from there, immediately looking second best and going onto lose 3-0. Jose Mourinho was in the losing dugout that day.
Solskjaer can’t use the ‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’ team talk this week, but Mourinho could turn out to be his biggest inspiration before the game and at half-time.
There should be players in United’s team who want to prove a point to the former boss. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba if passed fit.
This is what United’s manager needs to tap into to inspire his side into a win. He needs it, his own lack of wins means he’s now fighting for his job.
That situation builds pressure, and scoring first is essential for United to get the three points on Wednesday night.
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