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Opinion: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s make or break season?

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been the Manchester United manager for almost three years now and many see that his time is running out as the United manager. At United there is an expectation to win silverware and especially the big trophies like the Champions League and Premier League. United have gone trophyless for four years now since Mourinho won the Europa League in 2017, but for the likes of the Premier League, this hasn’t been won since Ferguson’s last season as United boss in 2013, and the Champions League hasn’t been won since 2008 in that famous night in Moscow.

As the seasons go by, United fans are becoming more impatient about the team’s lack of success; many fear that the Glazers thrive off United fans’ expectations falling, as the demand was for the challenging for Premier League titles and Champions League’s every season, to recently top four is a good year. Under Solskjaer, United have managed to reach one final (the Europa League) and then four semi-finals in various competitions. However, none of those semi-finals or the final came in the Champions League as United have leapfrogged in and out of the competition.

After Solskjaer’s men managed second place in the league last season, it secured Champions League football for the second year running which United had failed to do since Ferguson’s retirement. This season, Solskjaer and the team will be looking to go far into the competition, certainly much further then the 2020/21 season in which they crashed out in the group stages. Manchester United is a divided fanbase and difficult to keep on side but to ensure a long reign at the club, keeping the fans onside is essential. For Solskjaer to do this, he must bring silverware back to Old Trafford and properly challenge for the Premier League title.

Therefore, after almost three years at the club, United find themselves improving year by year as in the league in 2019/20 United managed 66 points finishing thirdwhereas in the 2020/21 season United improved finishing second with 74 points. In the Europa league, Solskjaer’s men went one step further then the season prior reaching the final but still falling short of winning the whole competition. In the FA Cup, United actually declined as in the 2019/20 season they reached the semi-final losing to Chelsea but in the 2020/21 season they reached the quarter-final but were knocked out to eventual winners Leicester City.

Overall, United have progressed as a team, getting closer and closer to winning trophies, but the defining factor is they haven’t been successful till they actually start winning them. Therefore, next season is a big year for Solskjaer as he has a lot to prove and he must bring success or a sacking could become the inevitable outcome. So far this transfer window Solskjaer has been backed with the signing of Jadon Sancho, yet to be confirmed and the willingness to bring in World Cup winner Raphaël Varane. Furthermore, Solskjaer has expressed an interest in bringing in a right-back and a possible defensive midfielder.

Subsequently, this all leads to suggest United will spend big this summer; some believe this to be due to fan pressure on the Glazers, whereas others may feel it’s the reward of good management in the coronavirus market. Whatever you believe, these signings will increase the expectations on Solskjaer this summer, as if he spends big but still doesn’t deliver it could leave the United senior board no choice but to let him go. As mentioned, the expectations on Solskjaer’ men this season are high but what truly would define a successful season?

In the league, United must properly challenge for the Premier League title, not like the half challenge United had with Manchester City till January which then United’s form faded but City’s improved; but an actual title challenge where United either win it or finish a close second, anything else is a step back from previous years and wouldn’t be successful. In the FA Cup, its not a trophy of the highest importance anymore, but it would be a good trophy to win to re-ignite the winning ways at Old Trafford. Therefore, United should aim to win it or at least reach the final.

The Champions League is a pivotal campaign for Solskjaer’s men as he must ensure that United go much further then the last campaign and aim to reach at least the quarter-finals of the Champions League and potentially go further. If he doesn’t reach this, many would deem this as a failure especially with the funding received and the team he’s got. For Solskjaer to achieve this progression, I feel he must work on his game and squad management as he can be susceptible to overplaying players like Rashford through injury and keep playing Bruno Fernandes till he burns out.

This can lead to a subsequent drop off in form of the team, and to make sure United win these trophies, Solskjaer must handle this better. Furthermore, his game management can be poor; he often makes late subs and clearly doesn’t trust his bench and as many sayings go ‘You can’t win the league with just your first team’. So, Solskjaer must use his bench more as he has quality players like Donny van de Beek, rotting away on the bench who could be used to make an impact on the game with fresh legs and fresh impious. If Solskjaer improves these things, I feel it will positively affect United, enabling them to pick up a couple tighter results and secure those crucial narrow victories in the hunt for the Premier League title.

Overall, I feel if United are successful this season it will have vastly positive effects on the team going forward, as the psychological aspect of getting past the various cup defeats would be gone and the players would know what it’s like to win and could take that on and then continue to win more and more trophies in the future. For Solskjaer, success would solidify his position as United manager, further winning over more fans and proving the doubters wrong but if unsuccessful, I feel it may leave the United board in no position but to sack Solskjaer and bring in a new manager.

In conclusion, all these factors make this 2020/21 season a pivotal year for Solskjaer, and if it goes well, he will be comfortable in the job, but if it goes badly, I think Solskjaer will be back looking for work as the United opportunity passes onto another brave manager who looks to take United back to the top.

Written by Ethan Bents

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