It’s fair to say that Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer divides opinion. Amongst critics, fans, and pundits alike, Solskjaer has been thrown from pillar to post in terms of the critical reception to his management. However, during his time with Manchester United who you can bet on using a betting welcome bonus, the Norwegian, quantitively, hasn’t done too badly. And, following an impressive 2-1 victory away at French giants Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League, we have to question whether Solskjaer’s criticism has been warranted.
Last season, Solskjaer led the Red Devils to only their second top-three finish since the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Manchester United are, quite simply, a massively underperforming club. When Solskjaer was appointed in December 2018, Manchester United fans were disillusioned by Jose Mourinho’s defensive football and the lack of potency in their attack.
Despite the acquisitions of Daniel James in the summer and attacking playmaker Bruno Fernandes in January, Solskjaer’s United only scored one more goal in the 19/20 campaign than they had done the previous season. The Red Devils were still a mistake-ridden team, with David De Gea and the United defence especially culpable in this respect.
Yet, Solskjaer did progress Manchester United in the 19/20 season. They enjoyed some excellent results both domestically and in Europe, including a 3-1 away win at PSG. And, ultimately, they did achieve their second-highest finish in the last six years, proving Solskjaer’s generally impact to be (on the whole) positive.
However, consistency has been a major problem at Manchester United. And, this seems to be continuing into the new season…
Solskjaer’s time at Manchester United has been marred by issues at board level and a lack of worthwhile investment
Solskjaer is intent on his teams playing in much of the same manner that he and strike partner Ruud Van Nistelrooy did in the early 2000s – pacey, forward-thinking, and aggressive. The thing is, United are simply too passive a side to play in this manner at the moment. Defensively, they tend to merely give in to determined attacks, as shown in the 6-1 home thrashing by Tottenham Hotspur.
And, arguably, this isn’t directly Solskjaer’s fault. The manager will no doubt expect senior squad members such as Harry Maguire and Paul Pogba to step up and lead by example – physically, tactically, and mentally – and these players simply haven’t done that.
However, Solskjaer has a responsibility to set the tone in the dressing room and on the training pitch, and given some of United’s performances so far this season (Crystal Palace at home, and even the 3-2 win away at Brighton), it wouldn’t be unreasonable for fans and pundits to suspect that there may be issues with Manchester United’s mentality off the pitch.
Manchester United reportedly failed to sign any of Solskjaer’s preferred transfer targets this summer and judging by his side’s stop-start side to the season, this may cost them. Ed Woodward and the bosses at Old Trafford failed to prise Jadon Sancho away from Borussia Dortmund or Ousmane Dembele from Barcelona. Given their defensive woes, the Red Devils must compensate at the other end of the pitch – and they really did need to add some extra firepower in the transfer window. Will Edison Cavani provide this, or will he fall into the same trap that Radamel Falcao did in 2014/15 – high wages, and little return?
So, how well is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doing?
All things considered, Manchester United’s fairly poor start to the season is unhelpful rather than worrying. Perhaps the most worrying thing for Manchester United fans is the fact that Solskjaer’s teams rarely find a middle ground. In other words, they either capitulate or pluck a winning performance reminiscent of the Ferguson days out of the bag.
If Solskjaer can ensure that his side capitalise on their impressive performance away at PSG, then we could be witnessing the slow but sure turn around of a sleeping giant. However, Manchester United must be more consistent, or Solskjaer simply won’t be able to get the best out of a group of proven, capable players – and this won’t necessarily be his fault.