Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

Manchester United can play worse than they did against Liverpool. Yes, yes, I know, but before you click out, please stay with me for a moment. Although their defense was as bad as defense can be – again – until things got stupid, they attacked with speed, cohesion and imagination, not something that was said often.

The result was thus not a performance factor, but by the opponent, a serious thump far on the post, handed out by a serious team that is missing two-thirds of their first-choice midfield. Which means United have rare depths that are still lacking – and with matches against Atalanta, Manchester City, Villarreal and Chelsea imminent, history may soon repeat the farce as slapstick.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær is responsible for this, because the team and staff are his. But the focus on coaching excludes players who have earned an account. Every morning and before each match, they perform a rondo, a small-sided exercise in which one group holds the ball from another – something United struggles to do against opponents who are less skilled than their teammates.

The necessary skills are so basic and fundamental – pass and move, find space and make an angle – that the players should be able to transfer them to the pitch themselves. It is unlikely that Alex Ferguson has ever told Roy Keane and Paul Scholes how to “advance the ball” because they are international footballers, and none of Solskjær’s team should need such instruction either; the problem here is not the ability but the mentality.

It is for this reason that things have fallen so far, so fast: Solskjær’s players fail to apply basic principles of running and thinking. They can not hide behind the manager when they ignore the basic standards of professionalism expected of every person in every job.

Solskjær is often criticized for relying on vibes and asking his team to express themselves without structural guidelines, but that’s just not true. For example, he did not spend half of the Young Boys game telling his 10 men to spend the next three quarters defending their box. But if his instructions are not expressed on the pitch, they are not good instructions, and everything we see now suggests that the players have given up on him.

This is not strange. Because most managers are fired, there comes a time in most terms when all hope expires and it is clear that a relationship must end: For David Moyes it was 81 crosses against Fulham, for Louis van Gaal it was a slack one. defeat to Stoke, and for José Mourinho it was Champions League elimination of Sevilla.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær made a mistake in his handling of Paul Pogba.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær made a mistake in his handling of Paul Pogba. Photo: Paul Ellis / AFP / Getty Images

Although there are those who have felt this way about Solskjær all along, the improvement has been stable until recently, and the prospect of more did not disappear until the recent defeat to Leicester – the uplifting Atalanta comeback was clearly unsustainable.

After that match, Bruno Fernandes – the team’s totem – was honest in his assessment. “We have a lot to improve on,” he said, “and the coach also knows that there must be some improvements in their end, but it’s part of football … His ideas may be right or wrong, but we keep stick to it until the end. “

Well, the end is probably imminent; Ferguson once said that when it goes, it goes fast, and even though he talked about title hunts, he could have talked in general. Since football is football, any decision to release Solskjær from his duties would hardly be a decision at all, because Glazers, who have emptied more than £ 1 billion. from the club without putting a penny in, will take a view. As things stand, United are well equipped to cope with the knockout phase of the Champions League and qualify again next season, a position the owners will be very sad to lose, nor will they want players to mentally check out or make other plans, the price taken into account. to speculate in replacements.

In the end, Solskjær has failed because he has made too many big image mistakes. As caretaker, he was ruthless in handing over Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku, but went softly against Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial, who were once permanently fortified; he chose not to prioritize the controlling midfielder United have needed since Michael Carrick retired, despite retaining Carrick as coach; even though he was accused of being a “Fergie tribute act,” he failed to mitigate weaknesses by hiring the best possible staff; and he rated Harry Maguire as the player he wanted him to be, rather than the player he is.

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But the parody he inherited must not be forgotten, and in less than three years, Solskjær has turned a miserable troupe into an excellent one. Whoever replaces him will have plenty to work with.

Sometimes, though, people simply run out of ideas. When Brad Gilbert ended his relationship with Andre Agassi, he explained that he had used all the tools in his box – and he was the best coach in the world at the time.

Unfortunately for Solskjær, United now need a new box with new tools, and if they are not careful about looking for one, Sunday’s beating will soon feel like a birthday present.

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