The Red Devils have always been associated with winning major trophies, be it Premier League titles or the Champions League. They are also one of the few that have achieved only the most elite clubs can only dream of achieving – winning a treble of major trophies in a single football season. The majority of the success Manchester United saw in its golden years was attributed to the one and only Sir Alex Ferguson, deservedly so. The Scot turned the club into a dominating force that constantly strived for the very top. Then came the paradigm shift when he retired after winning Man United its 20th Premier League title in 2013. His departure deeply affected Man United and the club was never quite the same, until only recently. After a gallery of managers had failed to bring Man United to its serial title-winning ways, Ole Gunnar Solskjær was appointed.
The former Red Devil cum club legend who was a part of the treble-winning side had the right idea to instil values similar to that of Sir Alex into the Man United of today. Many thought that he was not the right person for the task. Admittedly, Ole did not have a remarkable resume when compared with managers of similar prestigious clubs like Pep for Man City, Klopp for Liverpool, and Tuchel for Chelsea. But if there was one thing he knew, it was the United DNA. Ole continued to attempt to revive the United DNA, signing players that fit the bill. The acquisition of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting CP was a huge step in the right direction as he was the fiery daredevil who takes risks and challenges the opposition in a way no other Red Devil does, galvanising the team greatly. After a long and arduous season, results started to show. Man United began to show swagger and ferocity of old that was the trademark of Ferguson’s men. They were playing ruthless counterattacking football with overpowering wingers ravaging at enemy lines, with the likes of Rashford and Greenwood with Bruno Fernandes breathing life into an otherwise lacklustre midfield. However, the season ended in heartbreak as Ole’s tricky reds came second in the Premier League and the Europa League.
It was not a secret that Ole lacked the personnel to go the extra mile. Man United was lacking pace and threat in the right-wing, composure in central midfield, and a reliable defence in their own third. That changed with the arrival of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, two world-class signings to reinforce the wing and defence respectively. With Ole’s Man United slowly forming into a complete squad tailored to his liking and the new season only just kicking off, the question is asked again; does Ole have what it takes to make this Man United side strong enough to win major trophies up for grabs – the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, and Carabao Cup?
On paper, his side certainly has enough to at least compete with the best clubs in Europe. Geared for an offensive playstyle, Man United’s MO is quick, and pacy passes into the final third are made possible with blistering wingers and risky passes from midfield. However, to do this, Ole needs a resilient presence in the heart of midfield that he still lacks; a bona fide Defensive Midfielder. The lack of a DM causes Ole to opt for a double pivot of Fred and McTominay (McFred) who are neither pure DMs. With two people serving the role of one, the team lacks the right amount of manpower to sustain a relentless style of attack Ole desires to play. After seeing it plenty of times last season, the weakness of this double pivot is glaring in prohibiting the fast-paced offence Man United want to achieve. Teams tend to sit back and defend when facing Man United, and before the arrival of Sancho, they were at a loss as to how to break them apart.
Sancho’s arrival resolves the winger predicament and is hopefully a sign that Man United will struggle less with teams that sit deep. Nonetheless, the double pivot is still not ideal as McFred cannot dictate play from a position neither are experts in. Couple that with the fact that Ole tends to trust them more than testing new prospects such as Donny van de Beek and James Garner who is far superior technically, questions are raised as to Ole’s judgement. Is he being loyal to a fault to certain players or does he actually have a plan?
The draw in their second game of the season over an average Southampton side which worked their socks off provided more speculation on Ole’s tactics. Playing Fred who is not known to be press resistant against a team that presses high was never a good idea, but one that Ole somehow went with. The plan backfired as not only did Man Utd play terribly, (particularly in midfield where a proper DM would thrive instead of Fred), they conceded as a result of poor defending. It took Ole over 60 minutes to change tactics and by then, Man United had already lost their grip on the game, only able to secure a draw credit to the ever so clinical Mason Greenwood. Timely substitutions was also a skill many have claimed is lost on Ole. Where he should’ve rotated the players who were not doing well with those that did, he waited until time was running very low in a gamble that did not always play out to his liking.
The draw invited outcry as many felt that Man United was more than capable of dispatching Southampton with ease given their firepower that obliterated Leeds United 5-1 the week before. Contrary to the belief of many, Ole decided to tweak the winning squad to give an off-form Tony Martial a start, who failed miserably to return the favour to the gaffer. Does Ole lack the tenacity to take every game by the scruff of the neck? Is he keener on making sure everyone gets well together? These are the questions that are being asked of Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Frankly speaking, the jury is still out. As much as I hope for there to be a clear cut answer in favour of the Norweigan, the only way the answer is evident and bodes well for him is if he has the results to back up his decisions. Should Man United win major silverware this season, then Ole’s actions have to undisputedly be deemed justified.
Ole has historically shown in his brief but eventful tenure that he can take Man United extremely far, with only the last step itself eluding his squad. With 2/3 of the holes in the team addressed, they can win trophies with a bit of hard work and luck. Regarding the cloud of doubt cast over Ole’s actions, only time will tell if they are justified or simply his own inexperience and incapability to handle the task. Be that as it may, Ole has no time to dilly dally and has no room for failure. With a team that looks remarkable on paper, he only has himself to blame if he fails to lead them to silverware.
Hartwick is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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