Manchester United travel to the capital on Saturday for their Premier League fixture with Tottenham Hotspur. United sit seventh in the table and a point below Spurs in sixth. United are eight points off leaders Chelsea after nine games.
United are still reeling from last weekend’s 5-0 thumping by Liverpool at Old Trafford, while Tottenham’s defeat to West Ham in the league has been eased somewhat with victory against Burnley in midweek and a quarter-final place in the EFL Cup. Ole Gunnar Solskjær, despite the hiding off a good team being in the post for a while, was bullish in his Friday lunchtime press conference.
Re Sir Alex Ferguson’s visit to Carrington yesterday. He was being fitted for a new club suit, as were other club officials. This had been planned for some time. Ferguson never saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or any players during his time there.— Simon Stone (@sistoney67) October 27, 2021
Solskjær also confirmed that he had spoken to Sir Alex Ferguson briefly, with Cristiano Ronaldo, despite some weird and rather precious briefings to the contrary earlier this week dismissing reports Ferguson was at United’s Carrington training ground in a show of support for Solskjær.
Ferguson is not a decision-maker at United by role or title but is a club director and ambassador. Ferguson’s opinion, however, still carries plenty of clout and is still offering his say on managerial appointments. Solskjær will be happy that he has Ferguson’s backing and it may help the Norwegian internally, but from the outside peering in it is not a good look for United who seem hellbent on repeating succession failures from the past. Ferguson may not keep an office down the corridor from the manager like Sir Matt Busby but doesn’t need one to keep meddling.
Solskjær’s position is now untenable. Perhaps victory in the Europa League final in May would have provided a better platform to start the new season strongly but, in hindsight, the writing was probably on the wall after David de Gea’s missed penalty. Sometimes you need that bit of luck to harness belief and momentum. Had United also bought a requisite destroyer in midfield instead of Ronaldo, maybe we would be seeing a more competent team than the shambling wreck of superstars this season. More realistically, United could buy any player or even appoint any manager and still eventually stink the place out.
David Moyes says #mufc must improve in a number of areas, including passing, creating chances and defending.— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 9, 2013
The club have much bigger problems than the manager and are no further on from when Ferguson retired nearly a decade ago. History will be kind to Solskjær – providing United put him out of his misery sooner rather than later – who rebuilt a team from the embers left by José Mourinho. But until United stop lurching from one ill-thought-out appointment and disaster to another there will be no quick fix from players or managers. United’s hierarchy are a collection of chancers and charlatans who are surprised at having to make a change from a punt in Solskjær and their ideal candidate, Mauricio Pochettino, is now employed having been available for the entirety of last year.
For now, United remain attractive and the spoils for success, along with the pay, will still be tempting to many managers who are free or not. Those with more sense will avoid United. As with most organisations, it is usually top-down and United’s only identity at the moment is self-serving briefing and leaking – an environment fostered by the board of directors. The complacency in retaining a compliant and well-liked Solskjær, needing the international break at least to hatch a plan on who might fancy replacing him in the hot seat, again shows the criminal lack of strategy from the club. United play on the pitch how they’re run off it and no amount of nostalgia can distract from that.
United’s players are far from blameless. Liverpool rocked up to Old Trafford and won 5-0 in second gear without any of their players needing a booking. The quality throughout the squad needs to match the effort of opponents at the very least, and United have been far too polite far too often in recent years. The players cannot now sulk, but do require direction and have asked the question. Were the board to say privately or, better yet, publicly ‘we are trusting Solskjær until the end of the season and will only review his position then’ there might be an uptick in performances from enough of the squad. Instead, we have a deathly silence that will get deafening the longer it goes on until the inevitable poor results proceed the inevitable sacking.
And Solskjær should wait for the sack, too. Some have suggested Solskjær should resign to protect his own legacy which, frankly, is more ‘United DNA’ nonsense. No one walks away from that kind of money. The Glazers can and should, at the very least, pay him off and Solskjær should have the self-respect to dig in no matter how far the owners push him. Besides, Solskjær carries an air of someone who still thinks he can and wants to figure it out. Solskjær is unlikely to call the owners out at any stage with a future club ambassador role in the offing.
United’s manager, in the meantime, has the opportunity to have a swipe at his squad and make statement changes against a similarly under-fire Tottenham side. Before a crucial Champions League match on Tuesday away to Atalanta and the prospect of another humbling at home to Manchester City next weekend. In Solskjær’s own words, we’ll make this short and sweet. Here are five things we want from Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United.
For Harry Maguire.
For Luke Shaw.
Donny van de Beek
May as well in midfield with Paul Pogba handily suspended for the next three games.
For Mason Greenwood.