What’s Gone Wrong At Old Trafford

Premier League
paul-pogba-manchester-united-19/20 season

A week is a long time in football.

Seven months is even longer and that period must feel like an age for Manchester United fans. Since that night seven months ago in Paris, when United defied all expectations and turned around a home defeat by winning 3 – 1 on the night to progress in the Champions League. They have failed to win away from home.

They currently sit in twelfth place with nine points and a practically identical record to newly promoted Sheffield United. If they lose their next game there is a very real chance they could be in the bottom three. In a cruel twist of fate conjured up by the footballing gods that game is at home to Liverpool who are eight points clear at the top with a 100% record. When was the last time Liverpool were odds on to get all three points at Old Trafford? That – unfortunately for United’s fans, however – is the reality. So what has gone wrong?

The Uncomfortable Truth
When Solskjaer took over the reigns last season the planets seemed to be aligning for the likeable United legend. The last few months of the Mourinho era were miserable on the field and off it. Suddenly one of their own was back, the players were playing an exciting, aggressive game and, what was more, they were winning games. Lots of them. Culminating in Paris, United fans could almost forget that Liverpool and Manchester City were setting new records at the top of the table.

As we all know, that was not to last, however. Performances dropped off dramatically, as did results. Apart from the opening game things have, if anything, got even worse this season. That brief moment in time when Manchester United looked close to being world beaters has become a convenient stick with which to beat the club, and the gaffer.

The reality is, however, is the results prior to it (and those after it) are very much all on a similar level. Perhaps the players, released from the shackles that Mourinho imposed on them. They were so glad to be able to play the way they wanted, that they suddenly found that extra 10%. The fact that it was Solskjaer at the helm was pretty much irrelevant. That upturn was never going to be sustainable if that was the case.

The fact is that they were a poor side, and they were doing what poor sides do – struggling to win games and get points. People mocked Mourinho when he claimed finishing second with United was among his biggest achievements, but he may very well have been spot on.

A wasted opportunity
Whatever the issues last season, the board and Solskjaer had a chance to put things right in the summer. Whichever way its looked at they did not do that with the window proving a disaster. They strengthened the defence, but allowed Lukaku and Sanchez to leave without bringing in realistic replacements.

Chelsea have been forced to use upcoming promising players, but they have at least had experience in and around the top level. It is not only a massive risk to expect newbies to step up and get results week in week out, it is also a very good way of inhibiting their progress as players. Rashford was one of last season’s bright sparks, but he is being asked to play a role as a lone frontman that he is just not comfortable with, and his performances have reflected that.

What does the future hold?
Solskjaer has pointed to the injuries, but most of those are at the back, and it is their lack of penetration and creativity up front and in midfield where their real weaknesses lay. Players are still talking about the top four, but amazing though it sounds a relegation dog fight is not beyond the realms of possibility, and you have to question if many – or indeed any – of the current squad have the mentality required to roll up their sleeves and win that fight.

The problems do not stem from a lack of investment, they come from the wrong type of investment. With no overriding strategy, each manager has ripped up what the previous regime has done and thrown money at their own plan. That has been repeated time and again. Whether Solskjaer will be there at Christmas is one question, a more pertinent one is will there be a director of football in place by the time the next manager is chosen. If there isn’t then it is hard to see anything really changing.