The international break has made an untimely appearance for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Manchester United’s limp defeat at the hands of Newcastle on Sunday will allow for two weeks of negative sentiment to fester before the side face Liverpool on resumption of league hostilities. Given that defeat against the Reds last year brought Jose Mourinho’s tenure to an end, speculation is rife that a similar fate awaits the Norwegian on the 20th of October should United suffer a similar fate.
Reports have already emanated from the media about an unscheduled board meeting Ed Woodward has held with the owners to discuss the club’s poor start to the season and specifically, Solskjaer’s suitability to the job in hand. Given Woodward’s penchant for publicly backing his man before giving him the boot, it would serve Ole well to warily look over his shoulder on this one.
I do not think that Solskjaer should lose his job. Yet.
Both manager and CEO have repeatedly reiterated that this is a rebuilding job that will take time. They have envisaged the bumps on the road that inevitably come with the territory, especially early on, and Woodward seemed to have made his peace with it. He called for patience with Ole as recently as a quarterly earnings call with shareholders a couple of weeks back. The manager has had a plan to stabilise the footballing side of things at the club, but lady luck has not been on his side this past month.
United had started the season very well with a 4-0 win against Chelsea and were probably unlucky to take only a point away from the Molineux. It was only in the fixture against Crystal Palace that things started to unravel. The Eagles, as they often do away, soaked up everything the Red Devils threw at them before eking out a win. More crucially for United, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw got injured during the game and United have not looked the same since. By the time the Newcastle game came around, six of the starting eleven from the game against Chelsea were on the sidelines.
Martial has been hugely missed given how he started the campaign and Marcus Rashford looks an isolated figure up front at the moment. For all the criticism levelled at Paul Pogba, he does have the ability to link play up from midfield and his absence has been felt in staid performances where the ball has been moved from one side to the other without any intent. Little wonder then that United have only scored nine goals in eight games, and only four since the first two matches.
It has not been all gloom and doom though. With the spotlight firmly fixed on the team’s miserable time in front of goal, it is worth noting that United have the league’s joint-fourth best defence. They have also taken seven points from their fixtures against the three teams that reside below Liverpool and Manchester City in the table. A struggling side they may be, but their results will improve when they have a full roster of players to choose from.
Solskjaer is not the person to take Manchester United back to the big time. He can, however, lay the groundwork for a more accomplished manager to build on. He has gotten rid of some of the deadwood and has brought in three good players during the summer. With a couple of additions in the January window, the stage could be set for Mauricio Pochettino or Max Allegri to take over next season. In the meantime, the club would do well to have a technical director finally in place. The worst thing the owners could do in the short-term would be to sack Solskjaer and leave another mess for the next man to walk into.
At the moment, all signs point toward a Liverpool victory at Old Trafford. Anyone who has watched this fixture over the years would agree though that it will be a closely fought game. If Martial, Pogba, Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, Lindelöf and Lingard are back, United could even spring a surprise and bring the Reds’ seventeen match winning streak to an end.
Will Woodward and the owners keep their nerve if United lose? We will know soon enough but Ole shouldn’t count on it.