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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not at fault for Manchester United's problems

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
ANALYST
Modified 03 Oct 2020, 15:17 IST
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Barely months after Manchester United played some of their best football in the years since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, things seem to be derailing at Old Trafford once again.

With barely two days to go for the summer transfer window to close, Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek remains the only new signing at Manchester United. The management is reluctant to meet the asking prices for other high priority targets like Alex Telles and Jadon Sancho.

On the pitch, it's been a shaky start to the season as well. Manchester United lost their opening Premier League fixture at home to Crystal Palace, as players struggled with match sharpness after practically no pre-season games.

Palace won 3-1 at Old Trafford in United
Palace won 3-1 at Old Trafford in United's first game

The Red Devils were also far from convincing in their 3-2 win over Brighton at the Amex stadium, requiring a dramatic penalty that was scored after the full time whistle to take all 3 points.

Opinion among fans, both of Manchester United and otherwise, seems to be split. Several believe that the severe incompetence of the board is driving the club into the ground, while others question Solskjaer's abilities as a manager.

Here's why criticism levelled on the Norwegian is misguided.

A promising first season for Manchester United

Solskjaer has had to work with one of the worst Manchester United squads in recent times after Paul Pogba was injured early last season.

While Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka helped to shore up the defence, he had to work with an incredibly sub-par midfield after missing out on Bruno Fernandes in the summer.

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Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira were his primary creators, and it's fair to say they're not exactly top 6 quality. The duo only managed 2 goals and 3 assists combined in 46 Premier League appearances.

And yet, Solskjaer managed to considerably improve Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, as his two best forwards played crucial roles in impressive wins over Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City. Rashford also scored in a 1-1 draw with Liverpool, which was the first points the champions dropped last season.

The 1999 treble hero utilised a different approach against the big teams - a 3-4-1-2 formation that was surprisingly successful in getting results.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shown glimpses of what he is capable of at United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shown glimpses of what he is capable of at United

Mike Phelan, Ferguson's former assistant, has doubtless contributed to these ideas. But regardless of that, Solskjaer has displayed his tactical acumen in his matches against the league's biggest teams last season, as well as in his brief spell as interim manager.

Furthermore, he showed commendable man-management in his transition of Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood into the first team squad.

The eventual arrival of Bruno Fernandes in the winter provided a huge boost to the squad. Suddenly, Solskjaer had a formidable weapon to use against teams with a low block that Manchester United were struggling to unlock.

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After his signing in late January, Manchester United went undefeated for the rest of the season. They scored 30 goals, just under half their entire total, in the final 13 games of the campaign.

There's also the fact that Manchester United were in three cup semifinals, and could have easily clinched some silverware if not for some questionable defending and finishing.

As the season ended with a 2-0 win over Leicester City that sealed a 3rd placed finish with Champions League qualification, fans had cause for the kind of optimism for the long-term future that hasn't existed in the last 7 years.

Yet, in typical fashion, the atmosphere surrounding the club has rarely been this gloomy 2 months later.

Football isn't static

Those who scapegoat Solskjaer already seem to have forgotten the progress he made in his first full season at Old Trafford, while the clear culprits are much higher up the hierarchy.

Manchester United have come into the 2020/21 campaign as the worst-prepared side after just one pre-season game behind closed doors against Aston Villa, so their defeat to Palace wasn't entirely unexpected.

The larger problem, however, is that other clubs have made the kind of progress in the summer transfer window that Manchester United haven't.

United
United's owners, the Glazers, have been tight with money

The motivations behind the Glazers not spending any money is irrelevant. The fact remains that no Premier League club has had fewer incoming transfers than Manchester United.

Does the club still have a good squad? They do - they did finish 3rd last season after all. But quite literally every other English top flight club has been strengthened over the summer more than Manchester United has.

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Van de Beek will definitely improve Solskjaer's midfield options, but attacking midfield wasn't the highest priority.

The contrast with other top 6 clubs is shocking to say the least. Man City have spent over £100 million on defenders alone. Liverpool have added one of the best midfielders in the world to a squad already brimming with talent.

Donny van de Beek remains United
Donny van de Beek remains United's only signing of the summer

Chelsea have spent millions to strengthen their midfield and attack, as have Tottenham. Arsenal have made shrewd acquisitions in Willian and Gabriel, with William Saliba also returning from his loan.

The starting XIs for all these clubs have changed (read improved) since last season. Manchester United's strongest XI remains the same.

Football isn't static - you will be left behind if you don't adapt with the times. Fans may not like the fact that the sport has become a lot more reactionary, in the sense that new players have to be signed simply because your opponents are strengthening themselves. But that is the reality.

Their rivals have significantly improved, but Manchester United have not. Solskjaer is being forced by the Glazers to work miracles with a squad that is laughably short of depth in several key positions.

Players like Pogba, Fernandes, Rashford and Martial will be forced to stretch themselves to the breaking point because Solskjaer doesn't have players on his bench with the quality to make a difference in the toughest league in the world. Players who should have been signed in the summer.

Paul Pogba cannot transform United alone
Paul Pogba cannot transform United alone

The entire footballing world has seen the impact that one good arrival can have on a team with Fernandes. Jadon Sancho would have broken Manchester United's transfer record, but there is no doubt that he would have had a similar impact. Manchester United have missed out on the opportunity to possibly be dark horses for the league title, and will have to settle for fighting tooth and nail to finish in the top 6.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - a convenient scapegoat?

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Solskjaer might not be a superstar name in the mould of Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp. But he has shown promise in his first year at the highest level of football management, and he has the qualities to take Manchester United back to where they belong.

Unfortunately, he has to wage a battle against unbelievable incompetence, and more dangerously, indifference across all levels of the club.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is being made a convenient scapegoat
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is being made a convenient scapegoat

Blaming him for all of the team's shortcomings is giving a free pass for the Glazers to keep leeching money out of Manchester United, and for Ed Woodward and Matt Judge to keep getting away with their failures. These are the people who should be under the microscope.

Make no mistake - Solskjaer cannot work miracles with this squad. He is a convenient scapegoat for the Glazers and the board to hang out to dry when their failures are inevitably reflected in his performances.

Published 03 Oct 2020, 15:17 IST
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