- October 15, 2021
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EPL: Ole Gunnar’s Inconsistent Manchester United must improve
Despite the arrivals of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, and Raphael Varane this summer have seen expectations grow at Manchester United as they look to end their four-year trophy drought.
But an inconsistent period of results and unconvincing performances means the board is still out on the Norwegian boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Old Trafford.
We look at the positives and negatives of United’s 2021-22 campaign so far.
Summer of signings
There is no doubt that United’s summer transfer window was one of the best in the Premier League.
Sancho finally signed from Borussia Dortmund and ex-Real Madrid star Varane seemed to solve their center-back issues before they sealed the unexpected return of a true United great late on.
Ronaldo coming back to Old Trafford was labeled as the signing that would finally see United challenge for the title, while it was a clear illustration of the club’s big ambitions.
But with those signings comes increased expectation on Solskjaer’s shoulders, says all-time top scorer Wayne Rooney.
After his former team-mate Ronaldo arrived, Rooney said: “Ole will certainly know that he’s in a position now where he needs to start winning these big titles with the players that he’s brought in.
“For their development, to get to the next step now is to start winning titles.”
Despite an impressive window, performances this season show there are still improvements to the squad that needs to be made.
For all the high-profile stars United have, the midfield still seems to be an issue for Solskjaer.
Solskjaer used Pogba as one of his two deeper midfielders earlier in the season but some unconvincing displays have seen him revert back to his trusted duo of Fred and Scott McTominay in recent games.
Towards the end of last season, Gary Neville told Sky Sports: “Look at the performance of the two midfielders. [Scott] McTominay is a good, honest player. And they’ve got Fred.
“As long as those two players are in midfield for Manchester United, they will not be winning any big trophies.”
It seems Solskjaer still does not trust Pogba to play that role, often deploying him on the left-wing, where he has still impressed as he leads the league for assists (seven).
The 28-year-old has proven he can play deeper in midfield on numerous occasions for France when he has a world-class defensive midfielder in N’Golo Kante covering the ground next to him.
With the likes of England duo Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips constantly linked with United, it appears the club knows that a new midfielder is paramount.
While Ronaldo and Varane have largely impressed since joining, it has been a difficult start to life at Old Trafford for England international Sancho since his £73million move.
Sancho had been one of the standout players in the Bundesliga for the last two seasons but he is yet to register a goal or assist for his new club.
He has also started only twice in the Premier League and was an unused substitute on one occasion against Aston Villa.
After being included in the latest Three Lions squad, manager Gareth Southgate admitted Sancho “probably didn’t deserve” to be selected based on his displays this campaign.
But a positive showing against Villarreal offered signs of promise, and Solskjaer thinks it is only a matter of time before the 21-year-old begins to showcase his considerable talent.
After that 2-1 win, Solskjaer said: “Jadon was exceptional, he was electric, the crowd loved him.
“He will be a top player. Performances are going to come. Yeah, he’s not scored yet but that night I thought: ‘Yeah that’s Jadon and we’re going to see loads of that.’
“He’ll come good, we’ve got absolutely no worries. If he goes there I’m sure he will play well.”
For all their inconsistencies, United have shown glimpses of a team capable of challenging at the top this season.
They opened the season with a resounding 5-1 victory over Leeds before they put on a fine display to beat Newcastle 4-1 in their second home game.
Those wins saw some scintillating combinations between the likes of Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Pogba and Jesse Lingard.
But United seems to crumble when they are tested more in games.
They succumbed to a late goal when down to 10 men against Young Boys in the Champions League and they struggled against well-drilled Aston Villa and Everton sides in their last two home games, failing to win either.
Neville thinks while United’s world-class armory is able to produce in moments, they are failing to function as a team overall.
He told Sky Sports: “I think you have to be a unit in and out of possession, and when you only deliver in moments, those moments won’t go for you in certain games.
“You need patterns of play, way of playing — I still see a group of individuals playing in moments.”
A lack of identity still seems to be a problem for Solskjaer’s United, which is not something that is said for title rivals Manchester City, Chelsea, or Liverpool.
That could see them fall short in their bid for Premier League glory this season.
A team that picks their moments to shine may be more suited to winning a cup and at least ending the trophy-drought at Old Trafford.
Whether that is enough to save Solskjaer, in the long run, remains to be seen.