Manchester United fans remain divided on whether or not Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been successful, and if he should be given a contract extension as manager.
Recent results, as well as some at the very start of the season, were undoubtedly below expectations. Solskjaer seemed to redeem himself in between, with a remarkable undefeated away run which is still ongoing, and a run up the table that saw United in first, albeit only for a couple of weeks.
Last season United finished third, and many will agree that if he manages to finish second this season, he would again be performing above expectations after a disappointing summer. However, this is not a certainty, and this season we’ve seen both the good and the bad side of Solskjaer.
Solskjaer and his Signings
At the end of the summer transfer window, many fans were left frustrated after the failed pursuit of Jadon Sancho and the decision not to bring in any starting level right winger.
Instead, United fans were greeted with the signing of the largely unknown Amad Diallo, as well as the arrival of out of contract Edinson Cavani and Donny van de Beek from Ajax.
While we still have to withhold judgement on the van de Beek signing, the signing of Cavani, despite some lacklustre displays of late, has overall proven an astute one, especially with Martial’s drop in form. Moreover, Amad looks like an excellent prospect for the future, with impressive displays in the youth teams.
Solskjaer’s eye for talent is undeniable, it goes without saying that the Bruno Fernandes deal has been a huge success, and whatever happens, when he leaves he will be the first manager since Ferguson to leave the squad in a better state than he inherited it. He’ll be hoping to receive backing from the board in the summer.
Results at home have been far more up and down, and many fans will point to the fact that United should be more solid at home, having suffered embarrassing defeats to Spurs and Sheffield United.
But despite some disappointing results recently, this season’s away form has overall been excellent, with United now at 21 games undefeated on the road.
While some will rightly point to City’s run of 21 straight wins as the benchmark, the away form is a good sign, and if United can build on that and incorporate better home form next season, then a better-sustained title run could be a possibility.
Solskjaer and man management
After Mino Raiola’s comments on Paul Pogba wanting to leave the club, many thought that would spell the end for Pogba. Instead, Pogba became United’s most in-form player before his injury, and results since his injury have highlighted his importance.
While we can’t possibly know what went on behind the scenes, Solskjaer’s management of an unenviable situation clearly worked wonders, bringing Pogba into what was probably his best form in a United shirt. Solskjaer has clearly turned the situation around.
Aside from Pogba, morale in the squad seems to be high. Donny van de Beek seems happy despite a lack of playing time, and the new signings seem to have settled in with the rest of the squad perfectly. It remains to be seen if he can keep morale high amid a dip in form, but so far Solskjaer has done a stellar job in this regard.
Team selection and substitutions
Seeing United’s team sheets an hour before every game has become one of the most frustrating things about being a United fan. There is a reason we aren’t paid millions to be manager of Manchester United, but team selection is often puzzling, with players who have a run of good games suddenly being taken out of the team for a run of games – Eric Bailly’s excellent performances during and just after Christmas spring to mind, as does the decision to keep Martial starting over Cavani for so long.
In addition, many fans find Solskjaer’s substitutions puzzling. He frequently waits until later than necessary to make changes in games, and notably bought on Donny van de Beek in the 88th minute of the 2-0 Carabao Cup semi-final loss to City, and only decided to bring on Greenwood for Scott McTominay in the 75thminute. His removal of Cavani for James against Palace also puzzled many fans, while his decision not to take Fred off at home to PSG when he was on a booking proved costly.
We don’t see the players in training and we don’t have an idea of the inside situation like Solskjaer does, but we can see when a run of performances merits a starting berth, and we can see when we should make a substitution. With the benefit of hindsight, many would say Solskjaer has got a fair few team selections and substitutions wrong so far this season. No one can get all their decisions right, but at times it is difficult to understand.
Most United fans will be sick of seeing the stats behind United’s games against the ‘big six’. The lack of wins and goals are puzzling, especially considering that Solskjaer had a decent record of results against the top six, with big wins against City, Chelsea and Spurs last season.
The answer lies in a drastic change of approach in these games. Recently, United have always looked to sit back and attack these teams on the counter, but recent showings against Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal show that, despite having a few good goalscoring opportunities, United seem more than happy to just not lose these games.
Sir Alex Ferguson himself famously said that he ‘never played for a draw’, and many fans would be happier to see the team go for the three points at the risk of occasionally losing the one. Solskjaer needs to install this type of mentality into his players.
On that note, and with another semi-final loss this season, and four during his time as manager, United clearly have a mentality problem. Perhaps the most notable example this year was the 3-2 away loss to RB Leipzig, a team that we had beaten 5-0 a few weeks before and a game in which United only needed a draw to progress in the competition.
Again, you can’t expect to win every game, not least every semi-final or important league games, and Solskjaer has won his fair share of big games in his time at the club. However, the limp attempt at a sustained title challenge since going top in January, combined with poor results when it really mattered, points to a lack of steely determination and winning mentality that all the best clubs have.
This may fade when (and if) the club wins their first trophy under Solskjaer, but until then it is vital that the big game mentality changes and United turn into a squad of winners rather than nearly-men.
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