Manchester United’s dramatic win in Paris sent Ed Woodward flying high into the night sky with dreams of rejuvenation. It wouldn’t be so long before he’d prematurely handed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a permanent contract.
Many lessons can be learned from that sequence of events, but one relates to Solskjaer himself. The Norwegian must embrace the gung-ho nature of that win, and the months that preceded it.
For all the talk of Mason Greenwood now, he was one of those on the pitch at the Parc des Princes when Marcus Rashford ran towards the away end. So too was Tahith Chong. Gomes and Williams travelled.
Solskjaer missing gung-ho nature that defined start
A couple of weeks earlier, James Garner had made his debut at Crystal Palace. But more notably, Diogo Dalot started on the wing with Ashley Young behind him. Wilfried Zaha was kept uncharacteristically quiet. It was a clever, and surprising, tactical move, the kind we’ve rarely seen in the last few months from Solskjaer.
Injuries have certainly played a part in many of Solskjaer’s woes. It’s also worth noting that United won six of their nine games in December. It wasn’t a bad month. But the use of Juan Mata perhaps tells you everything about the way this season is going.
Solskjaer has lost the consistent bravery which he showed to convince Woodward, and most of United’s support, that he was the right man for the permanent job.
Mata statistic is evidence of Solskjaer’s hesitancy
Mata has made 19 appearances for United this season, out of 30 fixtures. That’s already more than he did under Solskjaer last season (14), when the Norwegian took charge of 29 games.
It’s not to say that Mata is the root of United’s problems. But the regular reliance on him as a substitute, or starter, is endemic of the issues United have. Solskjaer had a summer to improve his team and yet still he must use Mata so much.
There is a severe, and seemingly fatal, lack of quality in certain areas on the pitch. Mata’s position is one of them. And in that position, like in left-back with Luke Shaw, Solskjaer is trusting players who have got his predecessors the sack. Angel Gomes may not have committed his future to United, but giving him a chance at number 10 wouldn’t go amiss.
The continued preference of Shaw is another intriguing one. How Shaw returned from injury and displaced the excellently-performing Brandon Williams with so much ease is baffling. He’s offered so little in attack and nothing more than poor positioning in defence.
Ole can’t rely on players who got other managers sacked
Williams, in contrast, has been overwhelmingly trustworthy. Taking him out of the firing line after a pretty poor showing against Aston Villa was the right decision. But after his brilliant game against Burnley, he should have been right back involved against Arsenal again.
It’s silly to pick apart every one of Solskjaer’s decisions but it’s worth urging him to be braver. He bases his management style upon the great Sir Alex Ferguson. When in times of troubles, he’s got to embrace the Scot’s best attribute: being an unashamed gambler.
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