Manchester United sit just a point behind top spot in the Premier League. So why does it feel that there’s enormous pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjær at the moment? We’ll have to dig a little deeper.
Well, first of all, there’s always pressure when you’re at the helm at Old Trafford, and Solskjær’s no stranger to this, having experienced immense pressure throughout his tenure. Louis van Gaal was sacked in 2016 just after he delivered the club’s first FA Cup since 2004. Essentially, this is a difficult job to be in.
The Norwegian manager has done a brilliant job rejuvenating a, quite frankly, soulless Man United squad. However, the challenge now is different, as the former United striker is expected to lead his team to either Premier League or Champions League glory.Embed from Getty Images
Bringing in the likes of Raphaël Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo bolstered a team which already had some excellent players. It also has brought these higher expectations for the squad. However, the start of the season hasn’t been hugely promising for The Red Devils.
Points wise? Yeah, maybe. But then we also have to consider the the team have already been knocked out of the Carabao Cup and also have lost the opening match of their Champions League campaign to the quote on quote ‘easy team’ in their group, BSC Young Boys.
While it’s easy, and fair, to argue that the outcome of both of these results were due to different factors, such as a red card and a numbingly bad pass-back from Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Jesse Lingard respectively in Europe, as well as a completely rotated eleven in the domestic cup competition (even though The Hammers also rotated their side).
Fair points. However, it’s the football that’s being played by Solskjær’s men which has been the most concerning aspect. It’s quite clear that, even though United beat Newcastle United by four goals to one, there has been just one game where the average spectator would’ve considered it as as a dominant performance from the Reds, and that is the opening match against Leeds United.
Games against Wolves and Southampton were both hugely underwhelming performances for a team with such high ambitions, but it was excusable. It was the start of the season, and even the best teams sometimes take a while to get up to speed, so being able to take seven points from the opening three league fixtures was impressive.Embed from Getty Images
However, progression has been quite rare since the team returned from international duty. There have been five games, and just two wins, with one of those being partly due to Mark Noble (a notoriously great penalty taker), being unable to convert from a spot-kick (and a brilliant save from David de Gea) in the last minute of the match.
The 4-1 win against Newcastle is exactly what this team is about. United attacked well and were strong on the transition, but also gave up a few too many chances to the opposition on the transition the other way. Ultimately, Cristiano Ronaldo returned to town with a clinical performance, and the likes of Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood were so impressive again which led to a comfortable victory in the end.
Yet, there’s been a lack of control in matches by Solskjær’s side with league games against West Ham and Aston Villa showing this. While both of the claret and blue teams are tough opponents, you’d expect United to assert their dominance in these kind of games, however, there was minimal sustained control from United in either of the matches. One resulted in a win, a one in a loss, but both were specimens of why there’s a worry over Manchester United at the moment.
The team will get results the way they’re currently playing, but they’ll also drop points and, eventually, probably fall away from their title challengers. The manager needs to get the team playing some more impressive football, so that they can dominate games and ultimately win more matches. But he needs to do so sooner, rather than later.
The Reds are going into an extremely tough run of fixtures throughout October and November, and need to show improved performances than what we’ve seen so far this season otherwise their season could quickly derail. How will they improve their performances?
The problems have largely been in the middle of the pitch, Solskjær needs to stick or twist in regards to his trust with Scott McTominay and Fred. Either he sticks with the duo and trusts that they deliver like they have done previously throughout big fixtures, or he looks to implement a different pivot with any three of Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek being options that he could use.
United could also do with Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw finding the form which saw them stand out for club and country last season, however, the pair were both injured in Saturday’s game and their return to the side is currently unknown, but it’s likely that they’ll both miss out against Villarreal on Wednesday.Embed from Getty Images
The team is still in a good enough position at the moment. They’re strongly placed in the league, even if they have played some of the more favourable fixtures out of the top sides, and while they lost their opening Champions League group match, they’re still likely to escape the group. It’s very possible that this could be a good, if not great season for the Reds. Solskjær will need to get them playing the way you’d expect a title challenger to play though.
There has been times in the past where a team just clicks. Will that happen with United this season? We’ll just have to wait and see, but Solskjær will want to make it happen sooner, rather than later.