Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is unlucky in that Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel are the best in the world. They set the bar extremely high and, compared to them, Solskjaer is inferior.
He has qualities and has done a lot of good things at United; he’s helped them progress, become easier on the eye and come close to winning silverware.
But, after three years, the fanbase and hierarchy want more than that. They demand trophies and I don’t believe Solskjaer can compete with his rivals tactically or in making big man- management decisions.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer simply does not stand up to his Premier League rival managers
The likes of Pep Guardiola (right) and Jurgen Klopp (left) are in another league to Solskjaer
I don’t think Tuchel, Klopp or Guardiola lose too much sleep thinking about keeping players happy. They are clear-minded in doing what is best for the team. Pep has spoken about leaving out Raheem Sterling and John Stones, it doesn’t consume him. Klopp sanctioned the sale of Philippe Coutinho, controversial at the time, because the Brazilian didn’t fit into the big picture.
Tuchel reacted to a bad patch at Chelsea earlier this season by picking eight defensive players and leaving a host of big names on the bench because he wanted to win again. That is the ruthless mentality Ole needs to find, but we haven’t seen it yet and maybe never will.
United went on an unbelievable away run before the Leicester game and that takes character. But they have lost the fear factor at Old Trafford where opponents get a lot of the ball and find it easy to score.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has shown ruthlessness that is lacking under Solskjaer at United
Even when United play Fred and Scott McTominay in midfield, they don’t get enough help from the four players ahead of them. That might not be laziness from the wide players and Bruno Fernandes but rather a lack of leadership from the management.
Players need to be made aware of their duties and understand there are consequences if they don’t carry out the instructions.
David Silva was world class when Guardiola arrived at City but his statistics still went through the roof in terms of pressing, winning the ball back and distance covered. It was the same with Sergio Aguero. He understood if he didn’t fit in with the new philosophy, he wouldn’t be playing.
At United, there are too many in the comfort zone. Until there are more repercussions for bad performances, they are going to have problems. Tuchel, Klopp and Guardiola would make United more competitive with the players Solskjaer has to choose from.
Too many players are in their comfort zone at United, and the squad need more guidance
Normally calm, he showed some emotion after Atalanta with a little dig at fans who booed at half-time. It was a sign he is under pressure but I don’t think letting off steam is necessarily a bad thing, the supporters like to see that passion.
His bigger concern will be striking a balance on the pitch. I suspect he’d like to play a more pragmatic brand of football to build results but that’s not perceived as the United way. So he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.
WAS ATALANTA A TURNING POINT?
The midweek win over the Italians is an indication of the ups and downs United fans can expect. There are going to be some wonderful games at Old Trafford and some really disappointing ones.
Every game is like a cup final at the moment, a FIFA console game. They have wonderful creative players who make brilliant goals but are vulnerable defensively. It can be exciting but Solskjaer doesn’t know what he’s going to get.
United’s games are exciting but the team needs balance and is too reliant on individuals
His problem is trying to accommodate his attacking players without losing the team balance.
Right now, United rely on individual brilliance to get them out of trouble.
Solskjaer wants to please the fans with United’s style of play because he understands the tradition. It will lead to dramatic nights like Atalanta but is not conducive to winning big competitions. United finishing in the top four or reaching semi-finals doesn’t cut it.
WAS SIGNING RONALDO A MISTAKE?
Mistake is the wrong word because he is a better goalscorer than anyone else, but his presence creates more problems than it solves.
United scored plenty without him and Ronaldo’s arrival has impacted on game-time for others. Mason Greenwood would have had more time at centre-forward, allowing Jadon Sancho to play more on the right wing and bed-in better than he has done.
Ronaldo has been brilliant for United but his presence creates more problems than it solves
Defensively, United’s problems would exist with or without Ronaldo because of the way they set up with four attack-minded players who don’t do enough out of possession.
While I can see the romantic and business appeal of signing Ronaldo, the team would have benefitted more from signing a world-class defensive midfielder because they already have Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford, Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Sancho as forward options.
WHAT SHOULD THE PLAN BE AGAINST LIVERPOOL?
Solskjaer has tinkered in the past against Liverpool, once playing split strikers and getting Rashford to cause Trent Alexander-Arnold problems but, given United’s defensive disarray at the moment, I’d keep things simple and match up Liverpool all over the pitch.
That means playing 4-3-3 and making sure all three midfielders, including Bruno Fernandes, or Paul Pogba if selected, do the defensive part of the game rather than float about as No10s. It’s important if United aren’t to be over-run.
Solskjaer should keep things simply against Liverpool and match up to their 4-3-3 formation
That way, the key is for United’s players to win their individual battles. It isn’t complicated. Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s job is to stop Sadio Mane, Luke Shaw’s job is to stop Mo Salah. At the other end, Rashford, Sancho or whoever plays wide has to get the beating of Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
By replicating Liverpool’s system and ensuring they are not dominated in any area of the pitch, United make it an even tactical battle, then it’s up to the quality of the players, and United have that.
DOES POGBA DESERVE A NEW CONTRACT?
He’s got great ability and enjoyed a really good start to the season. But if United are going to build their attack around Bruno and Ronaldo, I don’t see any point in keeping Pogba on a bumper new deal and then using him as a bit-part player.
We’ve seen against good opposition, Bruno and Pogba together in midfield doesn’t really work. If you play Pogba wide to shoehorn him in, you sacrifice one of your gifted wingers.
From Pogba’s point of view as well, why would he want to continue at Old Trafford when he is being shunted from one position to another. It would make sense for all parties for him to leave because he’s not going to be one of the main men and is too talented to be used for cameos.
There is no doubt Pogba has great ability but there is no point him being a bit-part player
THE VAN DE BEEK MYSTERY
Who bought him? Was it a bit of public relations because he was one of the few well-known names available at the time?
Sometimes you sign a player and when they turn up, he doesn’t tick the boxes you expect. But this has looked a particularly strange buy from the outset because his favoured position is where Bruno Fernandes plays and he’s not as good, so why invest £35million?
We haven’t got enough evidence to decide whether Van de Beek can do a job, he’s played so infrequently. He’s looked neat and tidy, with no lack of effort, but inevitably his confidence will have suffered by joining a new club that doesn’t seem to fancy him.
Donny van de Beek has not ticked any of the boxes for Manchester United and needs a move
WHY SUCH A SLOW START FOR SANCHO?
He hasn’t been helped by Ronaldo’s arrival, because it’s restricted his opportunities in his favoured position, with Greenwood also having to play wide. I don’t think arriving at United late after the Euros has helped.
Pre-season at a new club is key and I would have turned up the minute I signed. If it meant no holiday, then no holiday.
Sancho didn’t play every minute of Euro 2020 so it was surprising he started training later than other England players and therefore wasn’t ready to start the first Premier League game.
It feels like he has been playing catch-up since. My best seasons as a player always came after a proper pre-season.
Sancho’s opportunities have been restricted but he is still young and needs more support
In his defence, he is young and when you go to a club like United you need help and guidance.
He’s got a good role model in Rashford in how to deal with things. Rashford had been out for a while with his shoulder injury but his performances in the last week were full of intensity, and intent.
He was saying to the manager, ‘If I’m fit, you’ve got to play me’.
Sancho may have a different personality but he’s somehow got to incorporate a bit more of that ‘I’ll show you’ into his game and start to impose himself.