It was an Andros Townsend goal from a breakaway that silenced Old Trafford in the final game before the October International break. A devastating hammer blow to wipe away the sheen of Anthony Martial’s first half goal, capped with a strange imitation of Cristiano Ronaldo’s now famous ‘Siiuu’ celebration.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had gambled in resting several key players, Ronaldo had spent the first half on the bench, but it was ironically after the introduction of both Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho that Everton snatched an absurd equaliser from seemingly nowhere. Pressure is mounting on Solskjaer, that is an undeniable fact, and this result left a sour taste for Manchester United supporters going into a lengthy two-week absence of club football.
For many, another poor result is another opportunity to lambast Solskjaer and question his every decision, scrutinising his credentials to the core in order to oust him as manager. However, if there was ever a time the club needed to ride out the storm, it would be now. United are about to sail into the eye of the storm with a challenging run of fixtures, but even if results aren’t perfect it’s important the club sticks by the Norwegian.
Solskjaer and the term ‘Cultural Reset’ is often thrown around when talking about the impact the veteran striker has had as manager of the club, having initially taken up the position on an interim basis after the sacking of Jose Mourinho. Solskjaer was tasked with picking up the pieces that Mourinho had left, a squad in disarray with a lack of belief and moral, it seemed the club had lost all sense of identity and pride.
Mourinho had frequently picked confrontations with his players, notably Luke Shaw and Paul Pogba- who have ironically both been integral to Solskjaer’s reign. Where Mourinho criticised, Solskjaer extended an arm, managing to turn United’s fortunes around relatively quickly on the pitch and off it. Solskjaer brought in a backroom team that included legendary United figures such as Michael Carrick and Mike Phelan, which enabled the club to rediscover its values and identity.
However, it’s a discredit to just laud Solskjaer as being someone who simply boosted moral, the Norwegian led United to a second-place finish last season and has reached the latter stages in several competition with United. The issue arises now as Solskjaer finds himself with a star-studded squad and the task to take United to the next level, which is ultimately winning trophies.
While some are adamant Solskjaer doesn’t have the tactical nous to reach the next level, I think there’s a case for Solskjaer to have a little more time before being judged so definitively, because he has built the most competitive United squad for over ten years.
The calibre of players United now possess in the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Bruno Fernandes is seriously impressive and a large amount of credit has to go to the manager for being able to convince them to sign. The gaping issue for United presently is the lack of quality in the midfield, an area that has never been fully addressed for years now. If we look at Solskjaer’s signings so far, it’s clear defensively and attacking wise there’s been huge upgrade in quality.
The additions of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been massive in adding some security at the back, only furthered by the incoming of Varane. At the other end of the pitch United have finally been able to secure the signing of Jadon Sancho, as well as acquiring both Ronaldo and Fernandes during Solskjaer’s tenure.
The midfield, particularly central defensively, is the only area that Solskjaer has been unable to stamp his mark on with the signing of a player, excluding players like Fernandes or Donny Van de Beek who are more attacking than anchoring. United have been crying out for a number six even before Solskjaer took over, as an ageing Nemanja Matic can’t cut it week in week out anymore.
Critics often lament the lack of a clear playstyle or structure to United’s play, but this is partly down to the void in quality in that midfield area. The likes of Fred and Scott McTominay are just not the answer for such a pivotal position, and it seems like Solskjaer is trying to play it safe using both McTominay and Fred frequently, desperately trying to assert some defensive stability when, in reality a better player could do the role of both.
If Solskjaer gets his first-choice target in defensive midfield it’s more than likely that United will be able to play more attackingly and with more of control in midfield, which means Solskjaer may find it easier to imprint a distinctive style onto the team.
Overall, I think Solskjaer will be afforded the time and another summer transfer window to complete a full squad overall, which is only what he deserves after transforming the club in the last three years. While results will be the only judge of Solskjaer’s fate, one would hope that every fan of United continues to support the manager even in the dark periods.
Written by Sam Wilson