Manchester United fans had finally started getting their hopes back up again.
By beating Chelsea in the Carabao Cup, the Red Devils picked up their third straight road win in all competitions.
They had also recently jumped up to 7th place in the Premier League, which was far from where they wanted to be, but United were now in the top half of the table at least. There was a sense of cautious optimism starting to grow at Old Trafford.
That all went out the window on Saturday afternoon.
The Red Devils suffered another dreadful defeat, this time losing to AFC Bournemouth 1-0 at the Vitality Stadium.
The scoreline was kind to United, who barely looked like they knew what was going on during the contest. Poor at the back, they were somehow even worse going forward.
United are in a crisis at the moment, with a number of people to blame for it. One man who deserves a fair share of it is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and it’s become clear the club are wasting their time by keeping him as manager.
Out of his depth
No one really knows how the Red Devils are supposed to play when out on the field. There is no set gameplan, and there aren’t many tactics put into place either.
Sure, United tend to hit quality opposition on the counter-attack, but that isn’t any option against most sides who sit back and defend.
Solskjaer has had this problem since the end of last season, but he’s still failed to find a solution.
The loss to Bournemouth was a perfect example of this. Whenever United got the ball, it seemed like they didn’t know what to do with it.
The midfield resorted to just playing easy passes, either going sideways or backwards. If the ball managed to find it’s way out wide, it usually just led to a poor cross or someone getting dispossessed on the dribble.
The Red Devils only had a few shots on target, with no real clear cut chances being created on the afternoon. It was a similar story to every other game they have played against weaker teams.
Putting up a fight against their rivals is all well in good, but if United want to be challenging at the top of the league table, they’ll need to beat those at the bottom of it.
Solskjaer has proven he can’t do that on a consistent basis, which will lead to the team finishing miles out of the top four.
Making the worst of a bad situation
Now, everyone knows how weak this current United roster is. Plenty of areas in the squad need to be improved, and the team might not be ready to contend for a number of transfer windows.
Paul Pogba has also missed a bulk of the season through injury. However, all that considered, the team still should not be this bad.
There is talent in the club, and Solskjaer has even told the media that on several occasions.
The backline was bolstered in the summer, with Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka coming in to help out Victor Lindelof and David De Gea.
It’s obviously improved, but United aren’t elite defensively, which they should be with those players back there.
The midfield is admittedly a mess, to be fair, but there’s some potential. Scott McTominay has been excellent this season.
Although Fred and Andreas Pereira have been disappointing, they’ve both shown some glimpses of quality at times.
However, all that considered, United should still be much better going forward. After letting Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez leave in the summer, and then not buying a proper replacement for either, it was clear Solskjaer had faith in those already at Old Trafford.
He trusted the pairing of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, but neither have shown genuine consistency.
The Frenchman does well on the field, but he’s often kept off of it through injury, so it’s becoming increasingly tough to rely on him. It’s been the opposite for Rashford, who has been forced to play almost every game this year.
That has led to fatigue and dramatic swings in form, with the Englishman going from brilliant to woeful in the blink of an eye.
If they can’t get things done, then the blame goes to Solskjaer, as he was the one who put all the responsibility on those two going forward.
Then, there’s the youth, who were promised so much going into the season.
When asked why so many first-team players were allowed to walk away in the summer, Solskjaer was quick to hype up the youth academy, and those graduating from it.
He was adamant that they would get the chance to prove themselves in the team and make fans forget about those who left.
Months into the campaign, that hasn’t been the case. Mason Greenwood has gotten the most minutes on the field, but those have only come off the bench late in Premier League games or in less important cup competitions.
Meanwhile, Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong have effectively been sent back to the youth level to find time on the field.
The worst case of this deceit has been Brandon Williams.
After an early-season injury to Luke Shaw, there was a hole that needed to be filled at left-back. With no true backup at the club, the likes of Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young were forced slot in.
That was until Williams seemingly broke into the first team, impressing many in the Europa League and the Carabao Cup. Solskjaer was quick to praise him, saying the club might’ve found a new left-back.
However, Young was back in the starting lineup versus Bournemouth when the result of the game actually mattered. He was as bad as everyone knew he was going to be, but that didn’t even matter.
He’s got age and experience on his side, which is enough to be a constant presence in this current United team apparently.
This reluctance to play the youth shows Solskjaer’s cowardice. He’s afraid to take risks in games of genuine importance, so he just turns to those who have gotten the job done in the past.
The Norwegian was brought in to help lead a youth revolution, but that can’t happen if the youth aren’t even allowed the chance to grow and learn from mistakes out on the field.
This season has been so bad that some fans and critics have genuinely discussed whether or not United would get relegated by the end of the campaign.
That should not happen, but they’ll likely come nowhere close to the top four and crucial Champions League qualification. Manchester City and Liverpool will be fighting for the title, while Chelsea and Leicester City have established themselves as the best of the rest.
The Red Devils are now competing against Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, two North London clubs dealing with crises of their own.
The front office has continued to remind fans that they’re using this year as a rebuilding one. Even if that is the case, there’s little reason to believe Solskjaer is the man to lead the team through this process.
He’s a big reason why United are so far off the top teams in the league, and those at Old Trafford are just wasting their time by keeping him as head coach and expecting things to change.