Manchester United head into the upcoming international break in the midst of an absolute crisis. With only two wins in their opening eight games of the season, the club now find themselves in 12th place in the Premier League.
Unfortunately, some fans were expecting this downward spiral. The club has been sucked dry by ownership in recent years, with the Glazers and Ed Woodward prioritizing profits off the field over success on it. That was clear to see this past transfer window, as United were once again outspent by most of the teams in the league.
Many realize manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is in a terrible situation, but that doesn’t mean he is without blame either. The Norwegian hasn’t helped himself much, and has become a key component of United’s recent collapse. The amount of fans who want to see him fired grows by the day, and it’s unclear if he’ll last for the rest of the season.
The biggest criticism of this current United team is that they fail to play with a certain distinguishable style.
Solskjaer has yet to develop a go-to game plan for matches, which usually leads to him being tactically outclassed by opposing managers.
Early on, United were focused on playing on the counter, sitting back and hitting teams on the break. That worked perfectly against Chelsea in the season opener, but similar success has not followed.
As a bigger club, United often play against teams who park the bus and keep almost every player back. That means no space behind, and no space to counter into as a result.
Solskjaer has tried to have his team play possession as a response in these types of games, but that has usually been disastrous. United do manage to keep control of the ball, passing it around the pitch.
However, they never really do anything with it, as most passes either travel sideways or backwards. The Red Devils fail to create many significant chances, and only have three shots on target in their last two matches.
United now look lost on the field, and Solskjaer has to take responsibility for that. His relative inexperience at the highest level means he hasn’t been tested enough against elite level managers. The Norwegian has a lot to learn as a coach, but he shouldn’t be learning on the job at a club the size of United, as there’s little room for error.
Clearing the wrong deadwood
There was a big focus on getting rid of certain players during this past transfer window.
Fans and critics alike believed United needed to sell a handful of players in the summer, cutting the weekly wage while parting with those that simply weren’t good enough anymore.
Although the board was in charge of handling these transfers, Solskjaer was still heavily involved in proceedings. As manager, he had to sign off on any departures, with the power to veto any deals if need be.
Looking back at what has happened since, Solskjaer will wish he decided to keep some players who would be very useful right now.
It started with Ander Herrera, who was allowed to leave United on a free after the club refused to meet his wage demands. He eventually joined Paris Saint-Germain and is now an integral part of their midfield as the Parisians look to make a run in the Champions League.
Meanwhile, United are a mess centrally, having to rely on the likes of Fred, Andreas Pereira, and Nemanja Matic to get the job done. They often don’t, leaving the backline with little support.
On Premier League deadline day, United sold Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan for around 75 million pounds. No replacement was able to come in time, so that left the Red Devils a striker short in the lineup. That’s come back to haunt them.
Anthony Martial picked up an injury against Crystal Palace about six weeks ago, and hasn’t been seen on the field since. Marcus Rashford has struggled in his place, and has only scored one goal from open play this season. Youngster Mason Greenwood has been promising in cup competitions, but he’s not getting the same chances to shine in the league.
Lukaku has three goals for Inter, on the other hand, and even scored in the Derby di Milano vs AC Milan. He’s helping Inter fight for the Serie A title against Juventus, and the Belgian has been joined by fellow United castaway Alexis Sanchez, who also scored on his full debut for Inter.
Daniel James has been a revelation for the Red Devils, but there aren’t any other dangerous wingers at the club. Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata have been forced out wide, while Jesse Lingard has become a starter for United even though he’s not gotten a Premier League goal or assist since December of 2018.
Solskjaer was naive to think adequate replacements would come in on time, so now he’s the one left to deal with an incredibly weak squad.
When asked why he allowed those aforementioned players to leave the club, Solskjaer was quick to mention the amount of youth products in the academy that were waiting for their chance.
Solskjaer also promised that those players would get game time with the first team during the season, but that hasn’t really been the case.
The likes of Greenwood, Angel Gomes, and Tahith Chong have been forced to settle for appearances off the bench or in cup games, either the Europa League or the Carabao Cup.
Greenwood has scored twice this season in those tournaments, but still hasn’t gotten the opportunity to start for United in the Premier League. Gomes has almost played two full games in Europe, but has only gotten nine minutes in league play. It’s been even worse for Chong, who has featured more for the reserves than the first team this season.
They might be the cream of the academy's most recent crop, but they’ve still been deemed not good enough.
Solskjaer has been let down by more experienced players in the past, so he has nothing to lose by playing the youth like initially promised. If they are the ones to make mistakes, at least they’ll be able to learn and grow from them.
It’s not like they can be any worse.
Luckily for Solskjaer, he seems to have the full support of ownership. They still believe he is the man to turn this club around, and they’re willing to give him plenty of time.
However, Solskjaer’s relationship with fans will only continue to deteriorate if results do not improve. He’s dug himself into a deep hole and will need to improve quickly if he wants any chance of getting out and saving his public image in the process.