Showing posts with label Darren Fletcher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Darren Fletcher. Show all posts

Ronaldo-de Gea FC

Solskjaer's side suffered a humiliating 0-5 defeat at the hands of their biggest rivals in English football Liverpool at home. Defeat 3 years ago to the same opponents at Anfield led to the sacking of Jose Mourinho though the score was less embarrassing 1-3. Yet Manchester United board caught by surprise with a sudden and alarming drop in performance persisted with the Norwegian to see another humbling 0-2 loss to local rivals City in a derby match where no players except David de Gea and Cristiano Ronaldo showed any fight. Mid-week United drew 2-2 away at Atalanta to top their group in Champions' League thanks to two strikes from Ronaldo. Ronaldo has scored five goals in four group games to keep United in the hunt. 

Ronaldo and de Gea have been consistently papering over cracks to save the blushes of the entire team especially the two hero's from England's Euro 2020 in captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw. Despite having Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly as cover at centre-backs and Alex Telles at left-back, Solskjaer persisted with the same duo time and again. United struggle to control the ball from midfield with McTominay and Fred while no new recruits were added in the summer to augment that deficiency. Pogba was pushed deeper that resulted in him losing his form that saw him earlier create 5 assists in a single game and later dropped to the bench for crucial games against Liverpool and City! Greenwood's form has also tapered out. Bruno Fernandes' influence has not been sustained through the game but just in a few moments due to dysfunctional midfield. Rashford has been rushed back from injury. Jadon Sancho played out of position on left wing that is hampering him to gain confidence to justify his £73million fee. Die-hard academy graduate Jesse Lingard under utilized. These decision's neither gives afflicted players any respite to think through nor boost morale of squad players eager for an opportunity. What's the point then of having such a large squad that the manager has always been asking for?

LDLLWL has been their form guide picking just one point in their last four home games! Signs of disarray in their calamitous game-play evident from that fortuitous away win at Wolves the 3rd league game of the season but lessons weren't learned and situation allowed to deteriorate. United rank bottom in the Premier League on 20th place for 'total tackles' and 'duels won' and 18th for 'interceptions', 'aerial duels' and 'recoveries' tell a horrifying tale of players not applying themselves on training pitch which ultimately manifests on matchdays! If United have fallen so sharply in recent weeks although performances have been poor apart from the opening game against Leeds, why have the club still kept faith in Solskjaer? 

Lack of risk management from NYSE listed club's board and player morale. His man-management has been good with the first team squad except a few. United's stock has declined to $15.60 last Friday from a high of $20.50 on 27th September that is 23.9% decline in less than a month! Board cannot sustain Solskjaer if results do not improve immediately. The board respect the fact that Solskjaer has stood by them when no structure existed to support the manager resulting in only two of five transfers windows being excellent - Bruno Fernandes and this summer's recruits. Squad has been overhauled completely without public fallout and the famed youth academy re-grouped. Ed Woodward stepping down at the end of the year the board might not want to make a crucial change now. Solskjaer has come out stronger after the International break usually and got a result somehow when he needed the most. United need to go on an unbeaten run but face league leaders Chelsea after playing Watford on 20th November. They must qualify to knockout stages of Champions' League to save Solskjaer. But if that is achieved without a conviction of a playing style and changes to the squad demonstrating an evolution of game-play, how long might that last?

To steady the ship Solskjaer has been a good choice till now. However the sheer quality of players now at United would not suffer mediocrity for too long and that has been the true testament of squad overhaul that Solskjaer has achieved with clubs full backing. Board however will be inclined to believe that its still early days of the new season and Champions' League qualification for next season is not ruled out yet due to the sheer number of match-winners in the United squad. Next break from hectic schedule of 3 games per week will be in mid-December after the facing Brighton to do the change by which time either United would have steadied themselves or ruled themselves out of the reckoning based on recent form.

Erik ten Hag and Brendan Rodgers are two obvious candidates as PSG would not allow Mauricio Pochettino to leave mid-season especially after signing Lionel Messi while Zinedine Zidane might not fancy coming to England over his preferred choice of France and Spain. If an interim coach is needed clubs usually go to their technical director i.e., Darren Fletcher who has UEFA Pro license and should be eligible. Flipside would be that many of the backroom staff tend to be retained. Scotland manager Steve Clarke who got the best out of McTominay and Brighton manager Graham Potter must be also considered in the shortlist. Gone are the days when the progression was incremental and tier based. Brighton are below United by just the goal difference. If United do not target any modern manager than least they could do is to look at Potter, just 46 would represent a transformational move that United can be cited to have set a trend among the elite clubs across Europe.

For now, hope Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turns it around for weathering the storm so gracefully. Norwegian has always put the club first which every genuine United fan appreciates.

Solskjaer invites pressure

Manchester United lost the easiest game of the group on paper against Young Boys of Switzerland with matches versus two tactically astute teams in Villareal and Atalanta yet to be played. Young Boys came through two-legged qualifying rounds to beat three teams scoring 16 goals and reach the group stages, consequently looked sharper. United had only 2 shots on target in the whole match which is the least since 2003-04 says a lot about the dysfunctional tactics and substitutions by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer despite having the greatest player of all time Cristiano Ronaldo open the scoring early on via an inspired pass by Bruno Fernandes. It will be catastrophic if United do not make it to the knock-out stages of the lucrative Champions' League after marquee signings of Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Ronaldo.

Did Sir Alex Ferguson always had a perfect squad to win all the trophies? Even during the treble winning season he had Roy Keane and Paul Scholes suspended for the final, won one league title with Wes Brown and Mikael Silvestre as centre-backs, one Robin van Persie inspired rest of the aging team to win his last title etc. Ferguson usually took out a full-back to bring on an attacker in the later stages of the match to try and score more goals. They did score loads of late goals and a certain Norwegian scored four times as a substitute against Nottingham Forest. Between the victory in Cup Winners Cup in '91 and reaching semi-finals of Champions' League in '97, Ferguson's United struggled against sides like Torpedo Moscow, IFK Goteborg and Rotor Volgograd. Fans had no doubt about Ferguson's ability as he had guided Aberdeen to '83 Cup Winners Cup glory beating the mighty Real Madrid and won the same competition with United eight years later beating Barcelona despite English clubs being banned from European competitions for previous five years! 

Solskjaer has no such record. That is why it is mandatory for him to not repeat mistakes. Last season the loss to Istanbul Basaksehir made United to fail to qualify for knock-out stages and were relegated to Europa League. That day he rested his first choice partner to Harry Maguire in Victor Lindelof by playing Axel Tuanzebe; in Bern he rested Raphael Varane for the first half by starting with Lindelof. Donny van de Beek started both these games and was not at fault in either. Solskjaer took off Tuanzebe and brought on Matic to revert to five at the back at half-time and did so again by introducing Varane for van de Beek. Then Juan Mata and now Jesse Lingard were at fault to allow a goal to slip by, both of whom should have moved on from United. In form Mason Greenwood was an unused substitute this Tuesday. In fact at Bern, United slipped alarmingly from a good start in both halves unlike at Istanbul where they got one goal back.

United have previously played on plastic pitches against Young Boys themselves in 2018, Astana FC and AZ Alkmaar in 2019. More than half of Norwegian league home grounds have artificial surfaces! Despite FIFA and UEFA certifying artificial turf since 2004 and the technology evolving into third generation perceptions of increased player injury, tiredness for players and different ball behavior still exists. For Young Boys the result could prove to be 'Miracle of Bern' moment for Swiss football if they qualify.

Nor has Solskjaer outmaneuvered his opponents to win a trophy yet like the loss to Sevilla and Villareal in Europa League, to Paris St Germain and RB Leipzig in Champions' League group stages, to Chelsea and Leicester City in FA Cup and to Manchester City in successive League Cup runs. Solskjaer is the only manager to have beaten Pep Guardiola three times in a row, yet could not get reach the League Cup final. He has managed to beat other stalwarts Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann but could not progress through to group stages of the Champions' League last season. A well settled West Ham United provide a stern test this weekend but initiative has been lost bringing more scrutiny and pressure so early on in the season evaporating the feel good factor of Ronaldo's homecoming.

Declan Rice on his European debut with West Ham produced a virtuoso performance against Dinamo Zagreb and scored a wonderful goal too, will be eager to remind United what they have missed. Not since Michael Carrick the most underrated footballer in history, has anyone won all player awards at all levels at West Ham academy after joining from Chelsea at the age of 14. United can no longer get away by not snapping up exceptional talents as they did for Carrick and Rio Ferdinand, but have to get them before and directly as clubs are no longer hard pressed to sell their top talents because English Premier League is the richest in the world and due to excessive transfer fees involved especially if the player is English. After dismissing Declan Rice as 'sloppy' earlier ex-United captain Roy Keane now said "He's is way ahead of where I was at 22." recently. To remove two positions occupied by McTominay and Fred, Solskjaer needed someone like Rice to free up another spot for an attacker without losing the defensive shield. With the present squad it's still possible to win games with 3-2 score-line rather than 3-0. 

Darren Fletcher might intervene to not only check but mark those errors in tactics and substitutions by Solskjaer against Young Boys for John Murtough to analyze. This tracking might have escaped in previous seasons but not now. As a club United have gone up a few notches with key personnel all around not just in summer signings and that will make more demands to get the right results. Its not a doomsday scenario for Solskjaer but he can't postpone anymore to impose 'style of play' dubbed the 'Man United way' with the squad at his disposal now.

Disappointing season finale

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains in the company of Wilf McGuiness, Frank O'Farrell, Dave Sexton and David Moyes as trophy-less post war manager of Manchester United after fumbling against minnows Villareal in the UEFA Cup final in Gdansk. Final took place on a historic day, 26th May synonymous in United folklore with birthday of Sir Matt Busby and victory over Bayern Munich to complete the treble in 1999 under Sir Alex Ferguson. Solskjaer has managed to finish in top four in last two successive seasons a feat not achieved since retirement of Ferguson, and improved upon four semi-final losses by claiming his first runners-up medal. Progress seems labored and sluggish at best, aided by rivals Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur having a bad season at the same time!

Transfer spending has not been a problem despite criticism of Glazer ownership as Solskjaer has spent heavily on Harry Maguire (80m), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (50m), Daniel James (15m), Bruno Fernandes (67m), Edinson Cavani (free), Alex Telles (18m), Amad Diallo (37m), Facundo Pellistri (9m) totaling a staggering 276 million pounds in two and half years. Style of play still does not reflect the DNA of the club which is well-known to Solskjaer and over reliance on Bruno Fernandes who again won player of the season award for two straight seasons. In contrast flamboyant Ron Atkinson with star signing Bryan Robson won two FA Cups in '83 and '85 while Solskjaer meekly surrendered opportunities against Chelsea in semi-final last year and to winners Leicester City in quarter-finals this year. Outwitted by Sevilla in last year's UEFA Cup semi-finals and in league Cup semi-finals by Pep Guardiola's City for two straight season's. On that previous evidence the loss to 7th placed team Villareal in Spanish La Liga in Gdansk albeit on penalties was not a surprise.

As a player who is fondly remembered for his goal scoring exploits off the bench as a substitute being dubbed 'super sub', Solskjaer the manager is the anti-thesis with inflexibility and lacking plan B. Many point to his bench strength arguing about its depth but the same lot fail to acknowledge that unbeaten away from home record this past season was sustained mainly due to changes introduced in second half in Cavani and Greenwood being 3rd and 4th choice strikers behind Martial and Rashford. United had a brilliant shot stopper in Sergio Romero (released at the end of his contract after 6 years on 04-June) on their books but could not use him as he wasn't anywhere near the squad all season despite earning huge salary. Romero was the keeper when United lifted their only UEFA Cup trophy under Jose Mourinho in 2017 with Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Darmian, Herrera, Mata, Fellaini, Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Rashford. Eight of those have moved on in such a short space of time and replaced by more vaunted players like de Gea in goal, Shaw, Maguire (was injured replaced by Bailly), Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka, McTominay, Pogba, Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford and Cavani. The result in 2021 was poor but it puts the spotlight clearly on the manager unable to pack a punch let alone punch above.

Fiasco over Super League flirtation will force the Glazers to spend more than usual this summer. That will directly increase the pressure on Solskjaer to deliver next season. In this context a new 3-year deal for Solskjaer seems unlikely to be completed while his existing one enters its final year. An extension sounds more prudent. Solskjaer's repeated assertions about being a man-manager than a coach raises doubts about his present backroom staff which might need augmenting. Assistant manager Mike Phelan, a former United player was crucial to the initial days of success under Ferguson and later his trusted assistant, Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna are relatively early in their respective coaching careers, Martyn Pert is the latest addition credited with Fred's turnaround and Richard Hartis who is back as goal-keeping coach. Addition of former United defender Michael Clegg as head of strength and conditioning has resulted in lesser injuries to players this season, he now occupies the same position in coaching set-up that his father once did. Bizarrely Mourinho hasn't yet won a trophy without his former assistant Rui Faria when they last lifted that UEFA Cup for United. Rui Faria is yet to sign a contract with any club since he left Al-Duhail SC while Steve Cooper at Swansea prefers 4-2-3-1 like Solskjaer and Carlos Corberan has stabilized Huddersfield Town in his first full season in the championship. Meanwhile United academy under Nick Cox have made an excellent appointment in Justin Cochrane former England U-17s coach to replace Nicky Butt as Head of Player Development.

Credit to Solskjaer for finishing second and go unbeaten away from home for the first time in Manchester United history in a Covid-19 impacted season. Without proper rest between seasons for players and no pre-season either the team got off to horrific start with 3 defeats in first six games claiming 15th position. Tottenham Hotspur coached by Jose Mourinho inflicted joint heaviest defeat 1-6 at Old Trafford that made Solskjaer to fixate Mc(Tominay)-Fred in midfield for majority of games stifling creativity and Donny van de Beek's chances. Not the 9-0 win over Southampton but beating Leeds United 6-2 on their return to top-flight was the best match of the season. Bruno Fernandes' goal against Everton in an Eric Cantona manner was easily goal of the season. Loss to Istanbul Basaksehir away was the low point of the season leading to United crashing out of Champions' League group stage and failing to win any points from their last two group games against Thomas Tuchel managed Paris St Germain and Julian Nagelsmann managed RB Leipzig, both of whom went through. At one point in the season United's local rivals City were favourites for the quadruple until Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel not United stopped their juggernaut in FA Cup semi-final and Champions' League final respectively! Lost to Arsenal at Old Trafford for the 1st time in 15 years! United's joint biggest Premier League win (9-0 vs Saints) and loss (1-6 vs Spurs) occurred in the same season! United also continued to lose at least one match to relegated teams for 4th straight season, in a 1-2 loss to Sheffield United at home! Most bizarre match was 3-2 win over Brighton & Hove Albion with the penalty coming after the final whistle scored by Bruno Fernandes who ended the season as top goal-scorer with 28 goals.


Solskjaer deserves another season for rebooting the club as per its tradition of emphasis on youth development in an non-acrimonious manner unlike Jose Mourinho. Solskjaer did not get the players he requested last summer yet did not lose his composure unlike Mourinho and consequently the team still attacks mainly from the left via Luke Shaw or through Bruno Fernandes in the middle, and if this changes due to United finally getting a right winger like Jadon Sancho or Ousmane Dembele the impact can be huge. John Murtough the first director of football at United assisted by technical director Darren Fletcher will oversee their first transfer window (that opens on 9th June) since being appointed. They will be tempted by the prospect of availability of Cristiano Ronaldo and for sure that will appeal to the commercial side of United. Another tough one will be to convince Paul Pogba to sign a new contract as his present one enters its final year. Losing Pogba and not getting Ronaldo will seem like commercial disaster for Glazers especially Richard Arnold favourite in-house executive to replace Ed Woodward.

Declan Rice must be on top of their radar as McTominay and Fred do not create enough chances from midfield and confidence in Donny van de Beek is low. Maguire-Lindelof does not seem convincing to win the league as they lack speed and the absence of Maguire to injury exposed the lack of leadership that has made United to look at experienced player like Raphael Varane. Ben White is the best English bet to recover from high defensive line. Links to right-back Kieran Trippier who will turn 30 seems odd even though he is a Manchester lad while Max Aarons seems too pricey being in the right age profile. Player sales might generate considerable sum to augment the squad as likes of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Nemanja Matic, Andreas Pereira, Phil Jones seem surplus to requirements but their high salary will remain a constraint to get a move. Juan Mata who has been a brilliant pro but will probably look to play more games in a less competitive league as his contract comes to an end this summer. James Garner on loan at Nottingham Forest and Teden Mengi on loan at Derby County were the two best prospects this season. Solskjaer handed senior debuts to Anthony Elanga, Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbri and Will Fish.

Dave Sexton lost his job despite winning his last seven matches to finish eight in April 1981 but importantly he hadn't won a trophy in 4 years despite finishing second the season before and losing the FA Cup final in 1979. Solskjaer needs to be acutely aware of that! United are in their longest trophy drought in three decades (since 1985 to 1989) i.e., 4 years since beating Ajax in Stockholm.

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