With Manchester United suffering three defeats in their last four games, the pressure is mounting on Red Devils boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Norwegian boss is yet to lift silverware since he first came to the Old Trafford dugout in late 2019 but has been boosted by a brilliant transfer window that has seen the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane join his squad.
But defeats to Young Boys, West Ham and Aston Villa in three different competitions have raised questions whether Solskjaer is the right man to take the club forward.
United fan and writer Scott Paterson, of the Republik of Mancunia, website, gives an insight into the mood of the fanbase regarding Solskjaer…
Manchester United have now lost three of their last four games in all competitions and the questions about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s long-term suitability as the club’s manager are doing the rounds once more.
You have to wonder even if winning the Europa League final in May would have bought him any time but it’s a moot point given he froze on the night and United lost on penalties.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under pressure at Manchester United after three losses in four games
The Red Devils’ all- star team lost 1-0 to Aston Villa on Saturday and looked generally flat
Being one point off the top, in a remarkably better position than this time last season, as well as being in the midst of the longest unbeaten away stint of any club in the history of the English top-flight, certainly isn’t allowing for much leeway.
There are mitigating factors in all the defeats. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sent off with an hour left to play against Young Boys and Cristiano Ronaldo was denied a clear penalty, before a late mistake from Jesse Lingard saw him essentially assist the winner for the opposition.
Against West Ham, Lingard’s appeals for a penalty were waved away, despite referee Jon Moss having a perfect view of Mark Noble pulling his former loanee teammate to the ground in the box.
Then at the weekend, in the 1-0 defeat against Aston Villa, Ollie Watkins was obstructing David de Gea from an offside position before Kortney Hause’s late header gave the away side three points, with Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw both already forced off with injuries.
A 10-man United (above) also lost to Young Boys in Europe and West Ham in the Carabao Cup
Bruno Fernandes, who has been ridiculously reliable from the penalty spot, inexplicably changed his technique and walloped the ball miles over the bar with an injury time spot kick, diverting from his more usual method of a hop, skip and a jump before placing the ball in the corner of the goal.
People will suggest that Solskjaer, who is spoilt with talent in his squad this season, shouldn’t be relying on correct calls from the officials to win games, and this is true. But that also doesn’t change the likelihood that the way VAR was employed last season would have allowed for a different result in all three defeats, and the pressure then wouldn’t be mounting in the way it is now.
But even those who continue to back the manager, most of these amongst the match going crowd rather than those commenting purely on social media, can’t help but accept that an unwanted pattern is developing and Solskjaer has to do better.
Solskjaer (left) defended Bruno Fernandes (right) after his late penalty miss in the loss to Villa
United had over 60% possession against David Moyes’ side in the League Cup, and three times as many shots, but couldn’t find the back of the net once. Against Villa, it was 60% possession and four times as many shots, but again, no goals.
The game against Villarreal on Wednesday, which will see fans at Old Trafford for the third time in a week, suddenly has plenty riding on it. United have been handed favourable opposition in the Champions League, following last season’s group of death, and Solskjaer has to make that count.
He might have wanted to allow for rotation to the starting line-up, and his hand may be forced to a certain extent thanks to the injuries of Maguire and Shaw, but he can’t afford to make wholesale changes now.
His every decision will be massively scrutinised and he has to get a result against the side who currently sit 11th in La Liga.
United now face a reunion with Villarreal, who beat them in May’s Europa League final (above)
Jadon Sancho might get a rare start, with Mason Greenwood preferred to him on the right flank of United’s attack in recent games, and fans are already questioning why the star signing who Solskjaer has chased for years hasn’t had much of a look in.
Being fair, Greenwood has done more than enough to warrant a starting place, and the same people questioning the decision to play him ahead of Sancho will likely have been the same people claiming this signing would halt Mason’s progression. But the manager has to find the right balance between the two.
Gary Neville has claimed that when he watches United he sees a team of individuals, relying on big moments, rather than a cohesive side with a clear aim.
‘No tactics, just vibes’ has become a regular criticism of the manager on social media, but it’s hard to see how Solskjaer has improved United’s final league position every season he’s been at the club by purely winging it. The atmosphere in the dressing room is undeniably good but being united off the field counts for little if they can’t produce winning performances on it.
Manchester United fans have questioned Solskjaer’s tactics as the club searches for trophies
Solskjaer has plenty of attacking talent at his disposal but they could not score against Villa
Still, if the individual moments of brilliance win United games and Solskjaer doesn’t deserve credit for them, then it’s unfair to hold him entirely responsible for the red cards, penalty misses and wayward finishing that has cost the team in recent games.
But with the players he now has available to him, Solskjaer needs to find a way of playing to the best players’ strengths.
With Raphael Varane now partnering Maguire, Solskjaer shouldn’t still be relying on both Fred and Scott McTominay to protect the defence. It might be a useful move against better sides, even if still more cautious than United fans would like, but it should have no place in games against midtable opposition.
Marcus Rashford is set to return, having not played for United for over four months, giving Solskjaer more decisions to make on how he can squeeze his best players in to the starting line-up.
Solskjaer uses secure midfield with Scott McTominay (second left) and Fred (second right)
Last season he relied on more or less the same XI for the entire campaign, which had them on their last legs by the final game, but with better options now available to him he has to find a way to sensibly rotate.
Rashford’s availability should mean Pogba is moved back in the midfield, with Sancho and Greenwood vying for their spot on the right, while Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani compete for the central role. It really is hard to find many excuses for why such a talented group of attacking players should be struggling for goals.
Solskjaer tends to do well when his back is against the wall though and he will need to come out fighting again this week. But when he continues to be so consistently inconsistent, something has to click for him soon.
Solskjaer needs to deliver a trophy soon as he does not have the backing of the whole fanbase
The progress he’s made year on year only counts for so much, for so long, and then he needs something tangible. He has to win a trophy.
But May is a long way off yet and with excuses running thin, there are plenty of massive games on the horizon where Solskjaer will either sink or swim.
He doesn’t have the backing of the entire fanbase, he hasn’t for a while now, so it’s up to him to win people round.
The only way he’ll do that is by ensuring this squad fulfils its potential. The jury is still out on whether that’s within his capabilities though.