Manchester United are in a very precarious position right now where one defeat or a very poor performance can lead them to an immediate crisis. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows he will be shown the door if the Red Devils do not finish the season strongly.
A mere 10 Premier League wins in the last 10 months does not paint a pretty picture for the legendary striker who scored the famous winning goal in the 1999-00 Champions League final victory for Manchester United.
The Old Trafford going fans are torn between the ‘Ole In’ and ‘Ole Out’ bandwagons with both sets of fanbase making viable points. The Norwegian manager is believed to be getting preferential treatment from the board despite results continuing to get worse for the team under their current manager.
However, Solskjaer has been successful in getting rid of the under-performing stars from the past seasons and has managed to sign four quality players during his time at Old Trafford – Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Bruno Fernandes and Daniel James.
There are also talks of a cultural reboot at the club where Solskjaer is trying to improve the attitude and commitment levels of his players. The United manager needs a lot of his star players to stand up and deliver in key games as he continues to battle for his long-term future at the club.
Poor results in the next few weeks could even go a long way in confirming Mauricio Pochettino’s Old Trafford coronation. On that note, we look at the 3 players Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will rely on for the rest of the season, as he fights to keep his job.
#3. Harry Maguire
Manchester United fans have had to suffer a miserable result most of this season right after a morale-boosting victory. The pattern of one step forward and two steps back is largely down to the team’s inability to win ugly. When pushed against the wall, Solskjaer’s defence has crumbled and has often conceded cheap goals.
The Red Devils have managed just 5 Premier League clean sheets this season and have conceded 29 league goals so far. One man who can help Manchester United sure up their backline is their new captain Harry Maguire.
Bought for a world record fee of £80 million, the former Leicester City defender has had enough time to settle down and should start commanding his team’s back-five like Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk.
Manchester United were always blessed with imposing central defenders. The likes of Steve Bruce, Garry Pallister, Jaap Stam, Rio Ferdinand, and Nemanja Vidic were warriors and always put their bodies on the line to shut down the opposing teams.
While Maguire may not be in the league of elites just yet but the England international will need to step up and deliver more than he is doing at the moment. The United captain has lost 47 aerial duels this season, two of which came in the 2-0 defeat against Burnley last month.
Solskjaer needs a minimum of 7-8 wins from the remaining 13 league games for a Top-4 finish this season and the first step towards a victory is a clean sheet. Maguire needs to be more commanding, more vocal, and indeed more effective for the Red Devils to have a strong finish to the 2019-20 season.
#2. Bruno Fernandes
The lack of creativity in Manchester United’s midfield is alarming at the moment which has put an added pressure on the team’s new signing Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese international enjoyed a record-breaking 2018-19 campaign scoring 32 goals from midfield.
The former Sporting Lisbon playmaker has already managed 8 goals, 7 assists and has created 55 chances so far this season. Needless to say, none of the Manchester United midfielders get anywhere close to these numbers.
Even if we combine the goals scored by Daniel James (3), Juan Mata (0), Fred (0), Scott McTominay (3), Nemanja Matic (0), Andreas Pereira (1), Paul Pogba (0), and Jesse Lingard (0) this season, Bruno Fernandes would still manage to outscore them all.
Pereira (29) and Fred (24) have created the most number of chances for Solskjaer’s team this season which looks nothing in front of 55 chances created by Bruno Fernandes so far this season. Thus it is natural for everyone at Old Trafford to expect great things from their January acquisition.
Apart from the goals and numbers, the Old Trafford faithful were pleasantly surprised by the leadership shown by the midfielder in his very first game as a Manchester United player.
The Portuguese midfielder was seen dictating the likes of Daniel James, Fred, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. He was demanding them to move into spaces so that he can find them with his vision. Solskjaer will indeed rely a lot on Fernandes to take the necessary risks from midfield and inject some creativity to his team’s play from now and until the end of this season.
#1. Paul Pogba
Surprised? You should not be. Despite all the noise surrounding the Frenchman’s Old Trafford future one cannot deny the fact that when Paul Pogba plays well, Manchester United tend to win more matches than they lose.
Pogba’s absence due to an ankle injury has been the biggest reason for the inconsistencies shown by Manchester United this season. He is that one player who is not afraid to demand the ball and look to do something with it.
The French superstar is expected to be fit before Manchester United’s Premier League clash against Chelsea on February 18th and there is a big chance that Pogba will play some part in that match. With him in the team again, the Red Devils will be hopeful of putting a consistent run of results and sneak their way into the top-4 this season.
The former Juventus man never stops trying things and demanding more out of his forward players. The French international may have only played 7 Premier League games this season but has looked a class above the rest of his teammates.
Pogba on average has created 2.8 chances per 90 minutes this season. He has a pass completion rate of 82.8% as well as 1.6 successful dribbles per 90 mins and 1.9 tackles won per 90 mins. Not to forget, the World Cup winner scored 16 goals for the Red Devils in 56 appearances last season.
There is an air of certainty around Pogba leaving Old Trafford in the summer and it would not be unfair to say that the much talked about £90 million transfer has not worked for either party. However, that does not make the 26-year-old a bad player and with Bruno Fernandes in the mix, we might see the vintage Pogba return, even if for a brief spell of time.
Solskjaer knows he has to deliver Champions League football next season to guarantee him one more year to fix Manchester United’s misery. Despite the public backing from his club, the remaining 3 months will eventually decide whether Solskjaer was the stop-gap solution for Mauricio Pochettino or the Norwegian has more to his managerial skills than he is credited for.