Showing posts with label Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Show all posts

Erik ten Hag presentation

Manchester United suffered their 12th loss in the last match of 2021-22 English Premier League season 0-1 to Crystal Palace and finished with lowest points tally in EPL history with just 58 points that is 35 points adrift of the champions City. Goal difference was a perfect naught with only 57 goals scored thanks mainly to Cristiano Ronaldo's 18 and conceded as high as 57 goals placing the club 12th in goals against. United lost 5 of their last 8 matches ceding 16 goals as Ralf Rangnick era quaked to a meltdown due to player's apathy. Sensing the urgency of the situation Erik ten Hag rightly decided to advance his joining date, got his two assistants on board - Mitchell van der Gaag and Steve McClaren, and even attended the Palace game in London. The Dutchman formally took charge the very next day on 23rd May after the final matchday and was presented to the media.

Erik ten Hag sounded confident and methodical in his explanation having won his 3rd Eredivisie title in 4 years with Ajax Amstredam. On next steps he said "What we are now doing is first constructing the staff, constructing the squad and constructing a good plan. First it's the pre-season plan that we are now working on." His remit from the club was clear "They have to set conditions and I have to work with my squad to achieve success." and demands from a big club like Manchester United "We want to win every game, so we go from game to game and then we will see." with some big name players "But it is always players who dictate the way of play. I have the ideal, I will line up my best team, and I will line up my players like that to get the best out of them."

He simply had to sound ebullient when asked if the dominance of Klopp-Guardiola can come to an end before they leave? "I think, yes." After the worst season in 30 years the fans hope the only way is up and he echoed that "Although it is a fantastic history, the reason is there is a high potential for the future. That's why I am here." Most stinging criticism came from the first Dutch manager of Manchester United Louis van Gaal when he branded it as "commercial club" and hoped ETH will not join them. ETH naturally rejected that "I draw my own line and I’m convinced that is not the case. I spoke to the directors about it and football is one, two, three these days. Every club these days is commercial. Every club needs it. To be successful you need to do what is necessary, but football is one, two three in this club.”

Most important information that came out was his sharp dismissal of Ralf Rangnick's consultancy role and he simply cut the answer short "That is on the club." and refused to elaborate any further. Days later first it was Rangnick after being unveiled as Austria manager announced that he will end his role at United. "We have come to the conclusion that it is better for me and the club to concentrate fully on the Austrian national team. I cancelled the consultancy contract." Rangnick didn't salvage the situation at United rather added fuel to the fire with claims of board not backing him to recruit a striker in January after Mason Greenwood was ruled out. Fans do thank him for exposing the club but that situation cannot continue for long without becoming untenable. 

ETH distanced himself from Rangnick's conclusion of the club needing upto 10 new players after 0-9 thrashing over two legs by their biggest domestic rivals Liverpool, by harking back to era under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer "I am still in the process of analysing...The season before, this squad was second in the league, so there is huge potential." This perhaps gives a clue that despite United losing 6 experienced players whose contract expire this summer and central midfield positions still vacant that there will not be any wholesale changes but rather a evolution in squad. This dampened the spirits of many leading broadsheets who gave a pessimistic reading of ETH presentation. The Telegraph opined "New Manchester United manager deserves time to prove he won't be remembered as Erik Ten Months" while The Times were more considerate "Straight-talking Erik ten Hag will take no nonsense at Manchester United."

ETH has started work 5-weeks early compared to David Moyes who consequently failed to add any significant players to the ageing squad that had won the league in previous season. ETH is bringing in a known hand in Steve McClaren while Moyes failed to persuade Rene Muelensteen to stay while disbanding rest of Sir Alex Ferguson's formidable backroom staff. Richard Arnold and John Murtough have a new setup taking shape after a string of departures in Jim Lawlor the chief scout, Marcel Bout head of global scouting, Matt Judge director of football negotiations, Hemen Tseayo chief strategy officer and Ed Woodward the chief executive. This can be a boon for ETH to push through his requests or a bane if the new hierarchy cannot deliver the transfers in time for the pre-season - a deadline crucial for the new manager. Manchester United appointed Andy O'Boyle as Deputy Director of Football reporting to John Murtough, and like Murtough himself O'Boyle joins from Premier League's head of elite performance. This puts an end to the rumours of links with Paul Mitchell who has signed on for another season at AS Monaco or Luis Campos who has joined Paris St Germain.

Best piece of advise came from the gaffer Sir Alex Ferguson "Well, I hope he does well because the club needs someone to get in control. I hope he does well, yeah." No Dutch manager has won the English Premier League title yet(Guus Hiddink, Louis van Gaal, Dick Advocaat, Martin Jol, Ruud Gulit, Ronald Koeman, Rene Muelensteen, Frank de Boer) and that's a stiff challenge for ETH in itself. David Moyes flew to Thailand for pre-season so will ETH in July but hope history does not repeat itself any further.

Carrick impresses as interim

Michael Carrick stood up for the beleaguered coaching staff and took charge of two games against Villareal and Chelsea impressing everyone to earn an away win and a draw. Most striking feature was how different they were setup in these two games 4-2-3-1 with Ronaldo leading the line and 4-3-1-2 flooding the midfield without Ronaldo making the winger Jadon Sancho to score in both these games thereby regaining form. Carrick himself paid tribute to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his man-management before the first game, and took on the responsibility of managing United as an interim with great application based on his vast array of technical skill as a player.

Later due to delay in getting the work permit and agree terms with Lokomotiv Moscow for Ralf Rangnick, Carrick had to manage the team for the 3rd match against Arsenal at home. He dropped Aaron Wan-Bissaka who was involved in a lash to clear the ball that caught Thiago Silva's leg and United could only draw at Chelsea. This is proper management that seemed to be lacking under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Diogo Dalot deputized and unlike being outrun and targeted by Villareal, Carrick played Rashford on right not left to protect him. Fred was the workhorse again that earned United a crucial penalty as Ronaldo scored two goals to earn a 3-2 win against their direct rivals for the 4th Champions' League spot. Typical exhilarating Premier League match of recent years where again United did not have majority of possession even at home, something that is still unthinkable could have happened under Sir Alex Ferguson!

After the game it was made public that Michael Carrick would be leaving his position with United that started 15 years ago initially as player who replaced Roy Keane winning every trophy in his illustrious career and took a stint as a coach under Jose Mourinho. Carrick let it know he does not have any plans as yet but loyalty to Solskjaer was a factor. United are losing one of their finest who could have become their permanent manager from the bootroom in the future. Rangnick revealed he has tried to persuade Carrick to stay on in a long chat two days before. Hoping Carrick has a great career as a coach ahead of him and crucially win trophies that most of Ferguson's former charges have had very little of. Thank you.

In a short three game period Carrick has an impressive two wins and a draw but his team displayed cohesiveness that was lacking for much of this season under Solskjaer and a clear formation adapting for the deficiencies in midfield. In the game against Chelsea the coaching staff had live data feed from analysts in the background which was not the case before Rangnick's appointment. This made many experts believe that it was Rangnick forcing the move to bench Ronaldo against Chelsea and it was not Carrick's call. Judging from Carrick's storied history as a technical lynchpin of past United side playing alongside Paul Scholes with aplomb, he would have taken in the positive advice from Rangnick to make more use of pitch-side monitors for the coaching staff but the final team selection would be his own.

Another feature that was liked by all was Carrick's reading of the game in his press conference. As an example he described Thomas Tuchel's in form Chelsea team and the way they play in depth with full analysis. Did not repeat stuff often nor try to paint a picture but reveal his view. Refreshing.

By the way, Ronaldo scored his 800th goal of his career in the game against Arsenal. 800th! United fans would love him to get his 200th at United by the end of his two years here and surely surpass George Best's tally of 178 goals. Only Ryan Giggs has more appearances for United than 800 at 963, imagine to score in 19 seasons that is averaging a staggering 42 goals per season. Only Sir Denis Law has managed to score more than 42 goals for Manchester United once in 1963-64 that won him the Ballon d'Or with 46 goals, a trophy much coveted and respected in the past. 

Manchester United make the right call

Ralf Rangnick the godfather of modern football credited with developing Gegenpressing has been appointed by the club to be interim manager and help adapt the club to modernize its coaching setup as a consultant later. Instead of trying to move from one extreme of coaching method to another the club have moved to set themselves a structure in tune with prevailing standards at top clubs. John Murtough the Director of Football is said to have driven this big decision and perhaps demonstrates the separation from financial management represented by most people at the board. Football finally triumphs at the premier English institution where Glazers have thrown money without knowledge of the game since retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

United have been tracking Rangnick for over two years since the first meeting with Ed Woodward to become the first Director of Football. He clearly outlined two big deficiencies - recruitment and coaching in interview with The Times. Later hinted he turned United's offer down over how much 'control' he would get on those two crucial aspects. This issue must now have been firmly resolved for Rangnick to take charge. In recruitment he has helped unearth talents like Marcel Sabitzer, Erling Haaland, Joshua Kimmich, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Timo Werner, Naby Keita etc. In coaching he has inspired Thomas Tuchel, Jurgen Klopp, Julian Nagelsmann, Ralf Hasenhuttl etc. For now United players need to concentrate on winning the ball back in 8 seconds and scoring inside 10! Fate of the beleaguered coaching staff is not known but it could be a boon for the likes of Michael Carrick to learn under the German master.

If United go on a good run like they did under their last interim manager in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, will they succumb to temptations and appoint Rangnick full-time? If this process is as per statement put out by the club "Michael Carrick will now take charge of the team for forthcoming games, while the club looks to appoint an interim manager to the end of the season." they should not. Nagelsmann who worked under Rangnick might be in the shortlist to succeed with Erik ten Hag and alas no walkover for Pochettino struggling with ego's of big players at PSG! Rangnick has to identify his successor and help him achieve the target to win United its first trophy since May, 2017 potentially in May, 2023.

That will be six long years without a trophy which will be longest drought in clubs post war history since 1951 when they won the league championship after 40 year wait. In 6th year Busby won his first league title in '51, first trophy the FA Cup in 1963 after league win in 1957 the gap was due to devastating tragedy suffered at Munich. In 6th year United won second division in 1974 after European Cup triumph in 1968. United won the FA Cup four times between the league success of 1966-67 and 1992-93. Such is the gravity of task at hand on United's board to get this right. If they fail history is most likely to pinpoint the clubs decision to back an enigma of a player in Paul Pogba over Jose Mourinho who had won the League Cup and Europa Cup in successive years.

Last professor United had was Dave Sexton who handicapped by United's floatation in stock market combined with selling its best player in Gordon Hill endured a tepid trophy-less tenure that ended with eight straight wins without a convincing style and promptly got the sack. Rangnick has not managed at established elite clubs nor won major trophies like Bundesliga or Champions' League but help create and organize clubs like Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig. This appointment might not end the trophy drought but create platform to get the club to be competitive. Another professor Marcelo Bielsa is struggling at Leeds United this season.

United have an underachieving squad rather than inept. United need to bolster their midfield and correct the issues in defense to mount a challenge to Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea. Players have not hit a higher gear, big squad underutilized as same players were chosen, no new academy players included yet, upcoming winter transfer window to help push for top four with Declan Rice and Aurelien Tchouameni linked and perhaps Rangnick can help clinch the deal to land Erling Haaland next summer when Edinson Cavani leaves!

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.

Return of Cristiano Ronaldo

Manchester United were nudged by Jorge Mendes, the expert agent of Cristiano Ronaldo when he opened direct talks with local rivals City about the next move after his most famous client decided to leave Juventus this summer. Sir Alex Ferguson praised Mendes in his autobiography as "the best agent I dealt with, without a doubt. He was responsible, looked after his players to an incredible extent and was very fair with clubs". Credit to the team at United who acted swiftly to secure the services of Ronaldo once again, undoubtedly the intervention of Ferguson perhaps a first since his retirement brought about this transfer coup considering the final fee in five installments of €3million a year!

Ever since Ronaldo scored 42 goals to help United to their European double of Champions' League and English Premier League in 2007-08 his stats has been explosive and consistent. At Real he averaged 50 goals per season and at Juventus 33. Ronaldo broke the men's record of most international goals by scoring his 111th goal for Portugal who defeated Ireland 2-1. In the recently concluded Euro 2020 delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic he was the lead scorer despite Portugal losing in the knock-out phase itself. For the first goal he scored against Germany, Ronaldo ran 90 meters in less than 14 seconds dispelling any doubts about his fitness even at the age of 36. Despite being two years older than Messi he rose to the challenge brilliantly almost matching his 472 goals with 450 of his own during the same time in La Liga. Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku will have stiff competition for sure.

Does Ronaldo make Manchester United title challengers? Despite lacking a central defensive midfielder of repute to control games, United will solve another major problem of not having a player to score 30 goals a season. This itself will catapult United to challenge for the title but it will not make them favourites like Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea. Ronaldo is not an affliction with United's past glory as critiqued by a few notable journalists. Considering the history of Sir Denis Law, United protected their interests now unlike in the 70's earning the unpopular Glazers an important point over the Edwards ownership for sure. Sir Alex Ferguson augmented his coaching staff by recalling legends under Sir Matt Busby in Nobby Stiles to help nurture academy graduates, and promoting Brian Kidd to be his assistant. That worked brilliantly for Fergie. Another incredulous critique was to draw parallels with the disastrous purchase of Alexis Sanchez that completely disrupted the dressing room under Jose Mourinho; here the player in question is an ex-legend and super fit with a coach eager to get the best out of him. Yes, the United wage bill has hit the roof with this one transfer but the benefits far outweigh any negatives.

Cristiano Ronaldo will himself be aiming for glory to give his glittering career a fitting end. He would want to aim for record of Francesco Gento with most UEFA Champions' League wins and put a daylight behind his present records. His Premier League tally is 84 goals now with 34 assists, his overall tally of 112 needs 43 more to enter top 10 scorer's of all time and 67 to match George Best's tally of 179, he missed Denis Viollet's tally of 32 league goals the most by a United player by just one goal in 2007-08 and in the same season his tally was 4 shy of Denis Law's all-time record of 46 goals in 1963-64 that won the Scotsman a Ballon d'Or a first ever for a United player. George Best scored 6 goals in a match against Northampton Town where as Ronaldo has scored five goals in a league match on two occasions. Wayne Rooney rightly argued that Ronaldo has the physique to play into his 40's like Ryan Giggs.

Ronaldo's home-coming promises to eclipse the return of George Best twice, first after retirement under Frank O'Farrell he scored 4 in 19 games and second time after suspension under Tommy Docherty he scored 2 in 12 games before finally quitting United. Ronaldo's age might be a handicap in terms of longevity when comparing to Mark Hughes' spectacular seven years second spell. Paul Scholes made an impactful return from retirement by winning the Premier League. Other returnees have mainly been youth players from Mark Bosnich, Les Sealey to Paul Pogba and Tom Heaton. How hard it is get one's wish to return, just ask Gordon Hill when Ron Atkinson wanted him back at United after excelling in mid-70's but fate conspired against it.

With Ronaldo, United can play two upfront and not just 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Edinson Cavani scored 17 goals in all competition last season and would be an ideal strike partner. Rashford or Martial from the left, Fernandes or Pogba through the middle, and Sancho or Greenwood from the right offer plethora of opportunities to create goals for the Portuguese superstar. Pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will increase manifold to keep United in the hunt for the league till the very end and win the club its first trophy in five long years. There is no place to hide anymore!

Most promising season under Solskjaer

Manchester United begin the season on the back of their best transfer window in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era with additions of centre-half Raphael Varane, winger Jadon Sancho and reserve keeper Tom Heaton. Diogo Dalot back from his successful stint at AC Milan is like a new signing. And two weeks are still left to the end of summer transfer window! Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has augmented his coaching staff with Eric Ramsay the youngest coach to get a UEFA Pro license at 27 in 2019, he joins United from Chelsea as 'set-piece specialist' an area of concern from last season having conceded the most goals amongst the top four with 44. Trophy is the only thing missing now at United.

Unlike last season United managed to play four pre-season friendlies(2W, 1L, 1D) to build the momentum leading up to the opening game of the season against rivals Leeds United. It will be the first game at Old Trafford with fans since the 2-0 win over Manchester City in Mar, 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. United will have a new shirt sponsor this season in Germany's Team Viewer and look forward to "ground-breaking augmented reality solutions and remote access to Old Trafford – Manchester United’s famous stadium". Solskjaer also signed an extension to his contract until 2024, the departing chief executive Ed Woodward rightly said "Ole and his staff have worked tirelessly putting the foundations in place for long-term success on the pitch."

Based on the fixtures released United have a relatively easy start until facing Liverpool on 23rd October. Three matches each in November and March will be the toughest. Aim for Solskjaer will be to have United in the hunt for the title until April. This will be a very tough task as the standards set by Manchester City and Liverpool have been of the highest order. 12 points behind City last season and 33 points behind scoucers in season before that; on both occasions the champions ran away from rest of the pack in December. Chelsea have invested heavily to win the Premier League as they endure the longest league trophy drought under Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Strength in depth still does not favour United with deadwood at the club in Phil Jones, Jesse Lingard, Eric Bailly, Andreas Pereira and aging Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Lee Grant. This is despite the purge of more than a dozen players like Fellaini, Sanchez, Rojo, Smalling, Romero that has positively brought down the wage bill significantly to move United from top to 7th in space of two seasons. Following players have been loaned out: Axel Tuanzebe, Facundo Pellistri, Tahith Chong, Nathan Bishop, Ethan Galbraith, Ethan Laird and the futures of Amad, James Garner, Brandon Williams, Teden Mengi is not finalized.

United face Leeds on the opening day of the season only for the 2nd time. First time they met was in 1970 on August 15th losing 0-1 at Old Trafford. Last Leeds United win at Theatre of Dreams was on 28th February, 1981 and since then United have mostly the upper hand. Premier League welcomes 50th club in Brentford this season, with Norwich and Watford the two other promoted teams. Much maligned VAR has adopted the successful model from the Euro 2020 in terms of offside and handball rule; the substitutions has been limited to 3 from 5 while the squad can still have 20 players.

Marcus Rashford will miss the opening 2-3 months due to long delayed shoulder surgery. This will put the onus on Anthony Martial to make the most to sustain his United career which was blighted by injury last season. Will Paul Pogba be consistent? Will Donny van de Beek get more game time? Will Solskjaer still persist with double pivot of McTominay and Fred? Will the acquisition of Sancho hinder the development of Amad? Will Bailly be happy being fourth choice centre-back? Will United be as lucky as last term with injuries? United will need to create more goals to augment the loss of penalties from changes to VAR. Last three seasons United have won 12, 14, 11 penalties! Two legged League Cup fixtures are back unfortunately. Top three finish in league but within single-digit points difference from the winner, make it to the knock-out stage of Champions' League and a trophy like FA Cup or League Cup sounds risky as a good Cup run usually depends on the draw.

United will get off to a better start this season than the terrible ordeal of last season, try to avoid losing to relegation teams and convert many of the 11 draws into wins. To win trophies they would need to win the crucial moments in crucial matches by making right use of all available resources. This will entirely depend on the judgement of the manager in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. If Sir Alex Ferguson chose Solskjaer to be his 'man of destiny' who in turn has build the club back step-by-step, will surely be cognizant of the pivotal moment this season is going to be. United faithful have never been so optimistic in last five seasons, not just our super-sub.

Glazers engage with fans after 16 years

Friday afternoon on 4th June, Joel Glazer finally met with Manchester United fans forum representatives - the first meeting between Glazer family and fans 16 years after the heavily leveraged buyout that saddled the club with £540 million of debt and never been wiped out due to interest payments, loans and dividends made out to the Glazer family of over £1.1 billion in the same time. Before Glazers the club was debt-free and self-sustaining, consequently became the most sought after club in world football including being pursued by Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB the chief broadcasters of English Premier League which was vehemently and successfully opposed by unifying all United fans organizations, prominent MPs like Michael Crick and the media. Edwards family owned United between 1958 and 2002 for 44 years but were generally hated by the fans for mismanagement of England's most famous sporting institution as detailed in the brilliant book 'Manchester United: The Betrayal of a Legend', sadly same fate has befallen the Glazers.

Glazers were forced to apologize and meet the fans, it has to be noted not on their own volition but due to the fan protests and widespread condemnation of the disastrous flirtations with European Super League announcement on 19th April. Protests by United fans led to disruption to the training at Carrington on 22nd April and cancellation of the biggest fixture in the English league against their arch rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford. Glazers were forced to pay £22 million fine imposed by the Football Association. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and Super League fiasco the Glazers still persisted with taking $0.09 per share as dividend that will be issued on 30th July. This makes the mockery of fine imposed by the FA, and further raises questions on why this take-over was not blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission now called CMA. Ironically its the three American owners of three big traditional England football league clubs in Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal who have backed the Super League to mirror their operations in American NFL franchises!

Same top three English teams were involved in the previous flirtation of European Super League in 1998, there again backed by JP Morgan from where the Glazers hired Ed Woodward to work on buying Manchester United. Then JP Morgan had promised $20 million to each of the founding clubs and of being in a group of 16 teams who will participate for six years irrespective of their domestic league position; that sum became $200 million in 2021. Since then the number six has had deliberate evolution in European football - top 6 teams: ignoring traditional giants of the game like Everton or Aston Villa, these top six sides in the league had steadily increased their lead from the rest of the league. Evolution perhaps has a surprise too, in Leicester City's of the world who have worked hard from ground up to evolve into a major club by strategic choice and financial backing by football savvy owners. Contrast Leicester City owners with Glazers who famously cut the net budget in the later years of Sir Alex Ferguson to about £20 million each year. Recall United selling Cristiano Ronaldo for £80 million, lost Carlos Tevez to local rivals City and replaced the duo with Michael Owen (free transfer), Antonio Valencia (£16 million), Gabriel Obertan (£3 million) and Miram Diouf (£4 million) from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer managed club Molde! Consequently the last Premier League winning team under Ferguson had iconic veterans who needed urgent replacing - Giggs, Scholes, Ferdinand and Vidic. Imagine if Glazers would have been in touch with football where might United have been post Ferguson? Brian Glanville wrote this of the Malcolm Glazer in 2005 under the heading 'United they fall': "Utterly ignorant of soccer, owner of Tampa Bay Buccaneers American gridiron club, obsessed by the urge to make money from childhood, at odds with his own sisters over his mothers will, he is the very incarnation of capitalism red in tooth and claw."

This was not the first protest by the Manchester United fans who had previously launched the 'Green and Gold' campaign by Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) that was inspired by the colours of Newton Heath LYR (Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway) football club as United used to be known till 1902. Many loyal fans who had been supporting the club for more than two to three generations were part of this protest, and some of them even managed to form a new club FC United who now play in Northern Premier League the 7th tier of English football. They did not get the backing from any of players of the club including the "Class of '92" who instead invested in Salford City FC in 2014 and changed their jersey from tangerine shirt and black short to red shirt and white short. That kit sounds familiar!

In the absence of any football men on United board its the 'Class of '92' who are backing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer just like Sir Matt Busby backed Tommy Docherty when United suffered their last relegation and like Sir Bobby Charlton backed Sir Alex Ferguson when he faced his worst crisis in 1989. It must also be stressed that Docherty and Ferguson had achieved path-breaking success at their previous clubs in Chelsea and Aberdeen respectively unlike modest Solskjaer.

Threat of Super League finally made Gary Neville to take a stand against the Glazer ownership and further shared details of him recalling his medals given to United for display at their museum four years ago, as had a former United captain Martin Buchan. Thus far the "Class of '92" have rightly backed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in general about the direction of rebooting the club as per its tradition. If Solskjaer does not win trophies this upcoming season be assured this backing might change. Gary Neville had the toughest of tasks to succeed Roy Keane and bridge the chasm that emanated from the bitter fall out between Ferguson and his long standing, most successful United captain. Neville has successfully campaigned for an independent regulator in football to which the government has positively responded, and his assessment of the outcome of fans meeting with the Glazers was spot-on too. Doubts remain if Glazers would ever agree to a fan share scheme but the result of #NotAPennyMore campaign that has led to the The Hut Group pulling out of the training kit deal offers hope.

The Manchester Munich Memorial Fund (MMMF) that spearheads the joint group of major United fan organizations to lobby for recognition of Jimmy Murphy's major contribution in creating the Busby Babes and leading the fightback after the crash at Munich made significant breakthrough in their talks with the club who in principle have agreed to the proposal. Confirmation from Jimmy Murphy's grandson in 'All for United' YouTube channel.

Glazers NFL franchise Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite having the lowest win percentage 0.397 they shrewdly acquired the greatest player in NFL history in Tom Brady and won only their second Super Bowl. Can they replicate the same with Manchester United by getting Cristiano Ronaldo? Since the retirement of Ferguson and only when United are out of top four Glazers have invested heavily, this peak and trough transfer policy without a core guiding principle has back-fired thus far. Ed Woodward the embattled chief executive finally quitting and decision making decentralized to a limited extent makes for a fascinating season ahead, not just the transfers. Solskjaer wisely is being patient in his reboot to fill all facets of a modern football club by getting the youth setup revamped, hiring coaches at all levels, backroom staff, director of football, and this is slowly but surely leading to a crescendo of success as a tribute to halcyon days of Busby and Ferguson. If the Glazers do not stop taking dividends and reduce the debt nor engage with fans, irrespective of any on field success they risk being hated just like the Edwards. Old Trafford needs urgent attention!

2005-06 was the only time I got a postcard from United to join as a overseas member, immediately after the Glazer takeover. I remain hopeful of a positive change.

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.

Winning in style against arch rivals gives United a massive boost

Despite the 3-2 score suggesting a close match, Manchester United out-classed their arch rivals Liverpool in the FA Cup fourth round draw. Just a week before Solskjaer had picked both Fred and McTominay in the midfield to play out a 0-0 draw against the Scousers in the English Premier League. On Sunday the Norwegian picked an attacking XI with just McTominay as holding midfielder alongside in-form Paul Pogba and Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek. United had the better chances throughout and should have wrapped up the match in the first half itself. Dean Henderson had a confidence boosting stint in goal playing ahead of David de Gea.

Thus far Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had not beaten Jurgen Klopp and this hoodoo is now comprehensively overcome by this thrilling victory. Bruno Fernandes was rested and this raised a few eyebrows. United went behind to a Mohamed Salah goal in the 18th minute and United responded instantly when Marcus Rashford provided a 60 yard pass for a racing Mason Greenwood to slot home the equalizer. Immediately after half-time Greenwood returned the compliment for Rashford which meant United led 2-1. Edinson Cavani gave the ball away for Liverpool to score via Salah again to make the scores level at 2-2. Fernandes came on for Donny van de Beek who had found the space for Rashford to deliver the assist for the first goal and had a decent outing. Cavani hit the post from a free header before Fernandes scored the winner from a free-kick.

Bruno Fernandes has changed the fortunes of United and Solskjaer. His run of winning four of the seven English Premier League player of the month awards is the testament to his being the best player in England since his arrival last January. This cast a shadow on Paul Pogba and eventually has now made him the most improved United player behind Luke Shaw. Pogba tracked back his to win the ball for the first goal and this has enabled Solskjaer to play with only one holding midfielder. This is a massive change that helps United to play attacking football from the start  instead of starting slow and later hitting teams on the counter. Question has always been how long will the form of Pogba last? The club and Pogba have not started talks about potential contract extension but exercised the option to extend his current deal by a year that invited his in-famous agent to rant against United. Since the rant Pogba has buckled down and put in hard yards reminiscent of his form that made him a World Cup winner and initial 3 months of Solskjaer's unbeaten reign.

Harry Maguire switched positions with Victor Lindelof at the back and as soon as the first goal was conceded reverted to his left of centre role where he has predominantly played. This again demonstrated the changes that Solskjaer and his coaching staff are striving for to make the squad more versatile. Addition of tactics-obsessed former player in Darren Fletcher to the coaching staff has augmented the footballing think-tank. Rashford and Greenwood stayed wider and gave the opposing fullbacks plenty of problems. Cavani led the line superbly and was unlucky not to be on the scoresheet. Conceding two goals does seem concerning. 

Impact of Fernandes and Cavani have been transformative in the midfield and the forward areas, missing a similar X-factor in the heart of defense. Will the experience of the likes of David Alaba, Raphael Varane, Kalidou Koulibaly required to add that sense of invincibility required to win trophies? Knocking Liverpool off in the FA Cup will give a huge confidence boost to United's belief to challenge for the league title. Man City seem to be the hot favourites now as they have sorted out their defense by the signing of Ruben Dias last summer and return to form of John Stones. Eric Bailly's recent performances this season after that abysmal 1-6 thrashing by Tottenham, has given United concrete options that was always lacking given his injury record and perhaps put off signing a centre-back this January. Bailly's contract is up for extension too!

Solskjaer deserves credit for taking Manchester United to the top of the table at the half way of the English Premier League season, a feat not achieved since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. His man management of his players has been exemplary. Seeing the instant impact of Amad Diallo in training, Solskjaer has inducted him straight into the core 22-man squad at the expense of Jesse Lingard as per reports. Shrewd signings of Alex Telles and Donny van de Beek have nudged Luke Shaw and Paul Pogba positively to sustain their form so far, Dean Henderson has forced David de Gea to regain his mojo while the young forwards learn from Edinson Cavani. Although Timothy Fosu-Mensah has joined Bayer Leverkusen; Marcus Rojo, Sergio Romero, Phil Jones and Jesse Lingard still remain on United books. Piece by piece the structure to a strong squad with good characters is taking shape eliminating the deadwood simultaneously.

Wolfsburg, Sevilla and Leipzig

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could potentially follow the travails of his two predecessors Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho if he does not win a trophy or finish in the top four at the end of this season. Losing to Wolfsburg in the group-stage decider started the end of van Gaal's reign as Sevilla did for Mourinho but in the knock-out phase. One can argue Solskjaer had two matches against PSG and Leipzig to gain a point and not a decider like the two previous managers to retain the confidence of players and fans in his tactical judgement. For all his domestic trophies, Sir Alex Ferguson came up too short and often in Europe. Pressure on Solskjaer to deliver a trophy will only increase as a fallout.

Victory at Southampton from 0-2 down was a throwback to Ferguson years but where Solskjaer first matched the opponents formation and then changed it at half-time. Club realized their mistake of not hiring Edinson Cavani earlier in his stellar career as he scored two superb reflexive goals to claim victory. It set up the mood for PSG game at home nicely. Solskjaer let Fred play on despite transgressions after his first yellow card and later his dismissal ultimately cost the game for United. West Ham United led with an impressive first half display but could not increase their lead, and on came United with a classy assist by Bruno Fernandes which was converted by out of form Paul Pogba with a superb strike. That 3-2 away win meant United claimed a rare new record of nine consecutive away victories.

20 million euro match! Perhaps monetarily the biggest match of the season especially given the absence of 76,000 fans on every match day at Old Trafford and out came Pogba's infamous agent Raiola to proclaim that his prized asset not being offered a new deal will end his association with United. Not a surprise but the tactics of Solskjaer to play 5 at the back and defend while he said earlier its not in United's nature to sit back and defend, was the real issue. Roy Keane and Gary Neville came out bashing Pogba as expected but it was Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann who enhanced their credentials at the cost of Solskjaer by overturning their poor start to the campaign and achieved their clubs immediate aims, while United argue the duo were the finalist and semi-finalist of last season's Champions' League. Without fans the most dull and boring derby in recent memory with City ended 0-0.

19th December will mark the completion of two years for Solskjaer as manager of Manchester United. There has been a positive change in the overhaul of the squad backed by massive spending by the club. This last two transfer windows was perhaps the best since retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. If the club are to win trophies they need a manager to get the tactics right. United need to dominate matches with player of Bruno Fernandes' caliber and for that they may need a Declan Rice (an ex-Chelsea academy player who since Michael Carrick has won every West Ham academy prize) to compliment the defensive aspects of midfield, Fred has had a great resurgence but might not be enough. Any United match without exciting wingers is a sore display to watch. Has Solskjaer learnt from his mistakes to not make a slow start to matches, manage games better, evolve tactics to dominate games not just sit back and hit on counter, of not being influenced by criticism, avoid muscle injuries to his players etc.?

Fernandes, Pogba and van de Beek have not started together till now, nor does Solskjaer still know his best XI having played both Fred and McTominay to stifle not just opposition but themselves. Its the 12th match against Sheffield United tonight and that's high time to hit peak form given the next set of fixtures in the league are against Leeds, Leicester, Wolves and Aston Villa. United need to better their goal difference which is a paltry +2 at the moment.

When Williams, Greenwood and Rashford scored in last season's 3-3 draw at Bramall Lane it was the first time that three players below the age of 22 had scored for United in the Premier League since Giggs, Scholes and Beckham scored against Nottingham Forest in April, 1996. That's another stat that positively highlights the turnaround under Solskjaer that now has to mature into strategic realm and not remain merely at the whims of individual exuberance.

Away to high flying Saints

United were expected to beat Istanbul midweek at home which they duly did by a big 4-1 score-line that again highlighted how shocking it was to lose the reverse fixture 1-2 with shambolic defending. Donny van de Beek started with Fred in the middle with Anthony Martial on left and Marcus Rashford on right of front three as Edinson Cavani led the line. Only concern United have is the knocks to Marcus Rashford, Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and will continue to be without Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay. Its McTominay's absence that forced the positive change! The best part about Tuesday was the accurate crossing of Alex Telles that led to two goals.

Its Southampton away for Manchester United next, whose manager Ralph Hassenhuttl many argue could as a coach do a far better job at managing elite teams to improve their performance considerably. The turnaround that he has managed after that abysmal 0-9  home defeat to Leicester City, a joint record for biggest score in English Premier League with Manchester United beating Ipswich Town 9-0 at Old Trafford in 1995, has been simply incredible. He has played 5 to 8 players from that same group in almost every game since then, improved them individually and collectively as a team. Playing high-pressing 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2 that many clubs and club owners in England take a liking to, he certainly will manage a much bigger club soon. Main risk to mitigate this season was the over reliance on Danny Ings for goals and the two wins in last two games are a testament to that, and thus far have scored 4 more goals than United. Presently they are on a 7 match unbeaten run including three successive 2-0 home wins. He knows what his first team is unlike Solskjaer who has much bigger squad and more players to integrate. His main changes have been on the left wing with Djenepo, Redmond and Walcott trying to make it their own.
 
A thoughtful Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave a day-off to his squad due to a rare 4-day gap between two games. Most pressing thing is to bring back goals from Anthony Martial, and it could be via penalty with Fernandes and Rashford showing good team spirit. Discipline of Saints to check the opposing flanks will force Solskjaer to play oft-used Aaron Wan-Bissaka ahead of Brandon Williams despite the home game next to PSG where United still need a point to qualify for the lucrative knock-out phase of the Champions' League. Last match between these two sides had a controversial moment when Saints enforcer Romeu fouled Mason Greenwood which many believed deserved a red card. 19 year old hasn't appeared enough this season and this match could be a test of his developing mentality given the history, can become more of a folklore if he were to get the better of his avenger in the right spirit. Bruno Fernandes has been involved in staggering 34 goals in 35 games since joining United is clearly an outlier, no wonder rumours of him being linked with two Spanish giants surfaced.

Amongst the most odd things to have taken place in football was the kit-change by United from grey to blue at half-time after being 3-0 down in April 1996 at the Dell, previous home of Southampton. That change brought about a consolation goal in injury time by Ryan Giggs and a fine of 10,000 pounds for Sir Alex Ferguson who claimed the players could not see each other on a sunny day in the south coast. Later that year in October, United lost by an unbelievable 6-3 score again at the Dell when Roy Keane was sent off on 21 minutes.

United are on a 3 match unbeaten run including 7 consecutive away wins and this could be record equaling win of 8 last achieved under the illustrious Sir Alex Ferguson. Although a draw is more likely outcome given the results of last season, injury to Danny Ings should tip the balance in United's favour but the rise of Che Adams being linked with Scotland call-up makes this a tough match. Having drawn with Chelsea and seen off Everton, Hassenhuttl isn't fazed to meet the United challenge but clearly is cognizant of the need to have everything fall in place perfectly. Solskjaer compared his impact with Jurgen Klopp's arrival at Liverpool and that's a great compliment. After getting the better of another upstart in Leipzig's Nagelsmann, will the Norwegian emerge victorious against the Austrian with the might of Manchester United?

de Gea(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Telles, Lindelof, Maguire, Fred, van de Beek, Fernandes, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford

In defense of Solskjaer

Manchester United have lost three and drawn one of their first four home games this season. An unacceptable record in any year but the pandemic keeping fans away from attending matches has made a huge difference. These match going die-hard fans who have shown broader perspective to support the team and Solskjaer through thick and thin, and their absence has clearly hurt not just United but many big clubs across Europe this season. Its not unrealistic to summon the spirit of Stretford End to chase teams down and hunt for goals, but misses the spontaneity of fans to respond in their own characteristic way to the changing ebb and flow of the game to the benefit of their team by modulating their vocal chords as if in a symphony. Artificial Intelligence has still some way to go to compensate for that.

Is it simply a case of United unable to dictate play at home unlike playing on the counter away? Tactically Solskjaer has come under lot of scrutiny to be not cognizant of the fact that an underprepared team due to lack of pre-season and given the size of the squad at his disposal did not do enough to protect the team early on. In a results driven business this has taken the gloss away from completing a milestone of 100 games in charge with the defeat at home to Arsenal a first in 14 years! Records seem to tumble more than be created in a positive sense these days. Busy set of schedules ahead and with two weeks of preparation that Solskjaer has so far made good use of to bounce back stronger from an international break, will see United through against West Bromwich Albion this weekend although recently they've had good record at Old Trafford with three wins in last five.

Trophy-less in last three years since the UEFA cup triumph in May, 2017 under Jose Mourinho is a valid cause for concern but overlooks the achievement of finishing 3rd to qualify for the Champions' League which guarantees more revenue that foreign owners brutally demand. Solskjaer has cleared the dressing room of deadwood reducing the wage-bill and make the squad more younger that has seen the emergence of Mason Greenwood, Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe. The youth setup has been revamped which was totally neglected before, to rightly put impetus back on club's core philosophy of being the best club in the world to promote home grown players. These changes hasn't been easy to bring about whilst maintaining a sense of calm and positivity unlike the acrimonious changes under Tommy Docherty and Jose Mourinho.

Task to take United back to the top becomes almost impossible when dominant rivals confirm the extension of their famous coach's tenure. Cup competitions provide the only hope of silverware again this season. Unlike the modern day coach's, Solskjaer remains a manager in the classical sense and that does seem to have its limitations to apply instantaneous changes to impact the game tactically and relies on his staff to carry out detailed training regimen. Decision to play Bruno Fernandes as number 10 has paid off, relegating highly influential World Cup winner Paul Pogba to the bench. His powerful agent Mino Raiola had caused huge embarrassment to the club lambasting them on many occasions in the past. Club betraying the traditions of Busby and Ferguson backed the player who was world's most marketable player at the time instead of serial winner across four countries. Will Pogba's departure become Solskjaer's first bitter experience of his reign remains to be seen? What's become unquestionable is the impact Bruno Fernandes' has had in a very short space of time such that he will certainly be crucial to not just Solskjaer's survival but his longevity as United manager. More importantly fans would like to see the return of the famous United swagger to outclass opponents under a true leader like Bruno Fernandes.

Tottenham and Leicester have vastly improved this season reducing the chances of United finishing in the top four significantly thus increasing the pressure on Solskjaer. Next three matches against West Brom, Southampton and West Ham are crucial to get points before difficult set of fixtures start from the derby with City, United then face Sheffield United away (last year it ended 3-3 after United rallied from 0-2 down to score 3 goals in 7 minutes and ultimately draw), Leeds United, Leicester City and Wolves this year. Pandemic has meant clubs are less than willing to sack their manager to incur further losses in terms of severance pay that runs into millions. December 1st week has been the marker for that and in this season Slaven Bilic in the opposing dugout has emerged as the favourite for becoming the first managerial casualty this season. Progression in the Champions' League group stage will act as a cover for Solskjaer to make the push upwards from lowly 14th place with a game in hand.

Ideally this match would be well suited for Solskjaer to try playing his three best midfielders together in Fernandes-Pogba-van de Beek against West Brom but the lack of victory at home will intensify the need to ensure a win no matter what by playing Fred and McTominay. Fans hope McTominay would carry the momentum from being part of Scotland's incredible run to qualify for a major tournament since 1998 World Cup. Injury to Luke Shaw will mean a first start for Alex Telles and probably Axel Tuanzebe starting ahead of doubtful Victor Lindelof. Daniel James had a great international break scoring for Wales which will bring him back into reckoning. Clamor for him to move on loan is unwarranted as he can learn directly under Juan Mata at United more than anywhere else. His game management considering his age needs to be relooked at by Solskjaer. Structural changes being mostly done its these tiny but crucial adjustments that might turn the Norwegian's reign into a lasting success. Summer signings have added squad depth which was lacking for a long time. His toolset looks almost complete now with the exception of wingers. It's time to deliver on the pitch.

de Gea(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Telles, Tuanzebe, Maguire(C), McTominay, Fred, Fernandes, James, Martial, Rashford

Must win game for Solskjaer, again!

Manchester United travel to Goodison Park to play Everton after two defeats in two competitions, first a loss to Arsenal at home in Old Trafford after a gap of 14 years and secondly a least expected away loss at Istanbul the bottom side of group H in Champions' League that was shambolic. After a run of successive victories when Solskjaer took over, United suffered their biggest defeat of his first season at Goodison Park 0-4 mauling that made the Norwegian to rightly apologize to the fans "I just want to apologise to the fans. They're the only people with the badge on today who can hold their head high, because we can't." Just as now, and back then all criticism was directed at the players.

These defeats highlight the importance of Victor Lindelof, clearly if it wasn't for him United's loss to Arsenal would have been greater instead of being just 0-1. Suffering from a bad back he might miss this crucial game. David de Gea looks like he has regained his lost form, responding positively to induction of Dean Henderson becoming his deputy. Is Harry Maguire the right man to organize United's defense? Has he got the right protection in front of him? McTominay has industry not discipline, Fred is not a specialist central defensive midfield nor best in the world, while Nemanja Matic has lost his pace to play regularly.

Reactions on team selection seems to have gone to the head of Solskjaer. Donny van de Beek started after an intense backlash especially from Patrice Evra who questioned the rationale behind his purchase after spending more time on the bench. Ole Gunnar has persisted with both McTominay and Fred after the 1-6 defeat to Spurs, and removed not one but both of them at Istanbul after Paul Scholes told Premier League Productions "It’s as poor as I’ve seen Manchester United at Old Trafford to be honest with you. You have to give Arsenal credit, they were very good but on other hand you have to expect more from United and the two midfield players especially." Paul Pogba started again after a seemingly unexpected comment by Bruno Fernandes the talisman of last season's revival, but the Frenchman bizarrely few times quite clearly failed to pass to the most influential United player of recent times in Marcus Rashford. Fernandes said this after the Istanbul defeat that further raised eyebrows about the football management team responsible for running the club "We need to do much better, and we need to do something more than say 'Do something in the next game', because it will be a difficult game for us." 

Victory over Leipzig and Newcastle was huge but they came late in the second half. But Solskjaer again sounded overly optimistic when he said "It's not long ago we were the best thing since sliced bread, beating Leipzig and PSG. [You get] ups and downs in football. You've got to have belief." This followed an assertion from him that 3rd win of the season did not come until the 10th game last season easily forgetting that last season was the worst start to a United campaign in 33 years! 

Sir Alex Ferguson sounded out Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho to be his successor but was unlucky to not get any of them to become the manager of Manchester United. Instead it was David Moyes. Then Louis van Gaal took over instead of Mauricio Pochettino and later Jose Mourinho instead of Carlo Ancelotti. With Solskjaer the heart is in the right place to restore United to its glory but the means seem missing like a structured consistent performance despite spending close to 250 million on squad overhaul. For the second straight season United have started badly to mount a challenge in the English Premier League that seems to throw up surprising results opening the competition up for many clubs to claim. United thus far seem unable to grab this opportunity, on the back of a delayed Europa League Cup that did not give the players adequate recovery time. Luckily United have a big squad to be able to cope especially the addition of Henderson, van be Beek and Telles add depth which wasn't there earlier. But the club knew this situation all along and still delayed the transfers to not help their man in charge. These are the minutiae that top coaches of the world in Mauricio Pochettino look at before choosing their next move.

United do have a good squad even if its not great like the top three of Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, to eventually come good and climb the league table with a game in hand. Its these players who for the sake of their careers get going again. Else the upcoming break due to international fixtures might come to haunt Solskjaer. Jose Mourinho was sacked after losing away to Liverpool, today their neighbours Everton host United in a must win game for the Reds.

Solskjaer notches up 100 games as United manager

Time has flown either quickly as a result of two fine winning runs or exasperatingly when United have yearned for a win. Squad has undergone a definite transformation with most players wanting a move have been dispatched while the newer ones are regular's in captain Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Bruno Fernandes, Alex Telles, Donny van de Beek and Edinson Cavani. Most tellingly there is a general optimism about the future as academy graduates Mason Greenwood, Brandon Williams, Dean Henderson are integrated, and established ones rediscovering their form in David de Gea, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic, Fred and Scott McTominay. Depth is the new dimension this season that should allow Solskjaer to tweak his line-up and tactics to ensure a result no matter the opposition. 

His record so far in 99 games has been 55 won, 21 draws and 23 lost. He is close to overtaking Louis van Gaal's 103 matches in charge and near to Jose Mourinho's 144. Both those legendary manager's however won trophies in that time! Having achieved Champions' League qualification in his first full season in charge, the next aim will be to win a trophy before mounting a challenge to the English Premier League. Injuries, lack of squad depth nor disappointment over not getting Jadon Sancho can no longer be an excuse. Certainly United need wingers (signed two youth players Facundo Pellistri from Penerol and Amad Diallo from Atalanta) a specialist position for which they were known to have had the best over the years in George Best, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. Array of options in midfield now overcomes that caveat by playing 4-3-3 with Rashford and Greenwood in wider positions or playing with three at the back by pushing wing-backs further up or utilizing Juan Mata, Daniel James. Coming from 0-1 down to win over Newcastle, Solskjaer said "our season starts now" after lack of pre-season having started with two home defeats. Scrutiny will increase with every points dropped as they are already playing catch-up.

United face Arsenal at home after thrashing last year's semi-finalists in RB Leipzig 5-0 including a hat-trick for Marcus Rashford who came on as a sub. Last person to achieve that feat was the current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who put four past Nottingham Forest in a 8-0 demolition job. Emergence of Axel Tuanzebe to cover for Harry Maguire away in Paris to keep Kylian Mbappe quiet, and Dean Henderson's assured performances in the League Cup games indicating that he's settled after spending season's away on loan have been the two best positives that adds to squad depth further. United lead their group with maximum 6 points and now play two back to back matches against the weakest team in Istanbul Basaksehir which should tee them up to finish as group leaders.

Arsenal under Mikel Arteta won the FA Cup last year beating United's conqueror's Chelsea and managed to keep hold of their star player in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Arsenal have not won at Old Trafford since 2006, while United are desperate for points to move up from 15th position having taken only one point from three home games, their worst run since 1972-73. Every United match now on there will be a discussion on who was left out, why and did that work out? Donny van de Beek's presence has impacted five of the nine goals United have scored this season, mostly in late second half. He got his first start against RB Leipzig and match was evenly placed till his substitution. Paul Pogba played on the left of midfield his natural position and had a good game. Goals however rolled in after Bruno Fernandes came on.

Alex Telles is out after contracting covid-19 without displaying any symptoms. As per reputed journalist Christian Falk, United are in talks with AC Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu to sign him up for free after his current contract runs out in June, 2021 and is another number 10 rather than a winger. Rumours of links with a Turkish player before the squad flies to play in Istanbul is good to gain attention locally and positively highlights that the club are scouting for players for the next transfer window. Letting in five goals would have an adverse effect on Dayot Upamecano's immediate potential but clubs will look for his response in the next matches. Jadon Sancho scored midweek after a poor start to the new season at Dortmund after being linked with United all summer.

United are yet to dominate the match from the start and win convincingly. Tactically PSG away was great team effort but it's been the substitutes who have given United the wins in the final 20 minutes against both Newcastle and Leipzig. This is the next milestone. Only wins against Arsenal and Everton before the second international break will assuage fans after another poor start to the season. United need to be mindful of being complacent after that huge mid-week win. Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford who were on the bench midweek will return to the starting XI, meaning Donny van de Beek will go back to being a sub. As its a home match Greenwood may start in his second straight match while Cavani might need to wait a while longer to make his full debut. Anthony Martial will miss this match the last of his three match ban. Willian's return to Arsenal's starting XI will worry United.

de Gea(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, Lindelof, Maguire(C), Fred, McTominay, Pogba, Fernandes, Greenwood, Rashford

After Jack Charlton the elder brother of Sir Bobby Charlton, another World Cup winner in England and Manchester United's finest Nobby Stiles passed away. Being just 5"5' he played as centre-half in the 60's alongside Bill Foulkes to help Manchester United win two league championship and European Cup in 1968. He missed out the 1963 FA Cup final through injury. He man marked Eusebio to help both United and England overcome Benfica and Portugal in crucial stages of the great run. His joyful dance at the end of 1966 World Cup win and toothless grin is permanently etched in folklore.

'#Happy' made everyone succeed. Central to Busby & Ramsey's teams to knit together talents to win all major honours with #MUFC & '66 #WorldCup with #ENG. Perfect foil for @SirBobby,read the game well,a ball winner. Two ops ended his career at just 27. Youth coach. #RIPNobbyStiles

— Srinivas Rao (@srinivasjrao) October 30, 2020

United dominate opposition after years in doldrums

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