Paul Ince: Every game at Man United is a must-win for Solskjaer

Incey says fans got carried away after the 4-0 Chelsea win, and expectations are too high for a team that's ‘years’ away from being near the top again


After Man United’s 4-0 win over Chelsea in their opener, everyone’s expectations rose too high. They thought, oh we’ve started off well, we’ve got half a chance this year – they got carried away. The same way they got carried away when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over and won a few games at the start.

The fact is it’s going to take a few years, as I’ve always said, to catch up to Liverpool and Man City. They’re too far behind, but there was hope after that first game that the gap could be closing even a tiny bit, but it isn’t.


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Fans need to come to terms with the fact that it’s going to be a very up-and-down season for United. There have been slight improvements, they’ve signed players and they’ve got more of a settled team, the style of football seems clearer, but as we saw against Crystal Palace last weekend, they’re such a long way off.

Ole said he would make big changes to the team and he has, Romelu Lukaku has gone, so has Alexis Sanchez by the looks of things. He’s brought in Harry Maguire who has just done okay – that Jordan Ayew goal was a schoolboy mistake from him, the gap between him and Victor Lindelof was ridiculous – but there’s going to be teething problems. Fans must be patient.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – MARCH 02: a fan is seen with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Interim Manager of Manchester United’s name on the back of their shirt prior to the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton FC at Old Trafford on March 02, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

The pressure is back on Ole

But, ultimately when you look at United’s start to the season, four points, should you be happy? No. There’s a lot of work still to be done.

The pressure is back on Ole, which is why I said they needed to hit the ground running – people will be starting to question whether he’s the right man for the job. It means that every game, like Southampton, becomes must-win.

They gave him the job far too hastily for my liking, but you have to be patient with him now he’s in, he has to be given time to build his vision.
It’s about fans managing their expectations of United. I know that it’s easy for pundits like me or Gary Neville or whoever telling supporters to be patient and that it takes time. But, for years and years United were always up there, challenging for the title, competitive with City, Liverpool, Tottenham etcetera – but things have changed.

Since Sir Alex left, that’s not the same. It’s going to be a long building process to get back to anywhere near that level.

Rashford, Lingard and De Gea need to perform better – and Martial should try to look happy

Expectations are still always going to be high though, if you’re a player there. You’re expected to play 9/10 every game and win most of your games. No other club gets the kind of criticism that they do, because they’ve won so much and are one of the biggest teams in the world.

Even David de Gea, who is one of the best keepers in the world, shouldn’t be making the kind of mistakes he did against Palace. The best in the world simply should not be doing that.

You look back at last season and he made a couple of silly mistakes then, too. We all make mistakes but the best keepers don’t.

The performance levels of the players aren’t high enough every week. When you see Mo Salah, Raheem Sterling, Roberto Firmino – they play at the top level every game.

I love Marcus Rashford, but you know what you’re going to get with him, you need to see more. Jesse Lingard isn’t good enough, you need to see more from him. There are a lot of players who aren’t performing well consistently, and that’ll always let the team down.

But there are also players who I wish would show that they are happy to be there a little more. Anthony Martial never looks happy – he’s got the dream life, he’s at one of the biggest clubs ever, you need to see more from him.

Bringing back Zlatan is a ‘no-brainer’

From what we’ve seen so far, United do look better going forward. But they aren’t clinical enough, look at the attempts they had last week.
They need a goalscorer, a Harry Kane or a Sergio Aguero. Someone that scores goals for fun, makes it look easy. Yes, they’ve got Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford who will create something, but will they score you 25 or 30 goals a season? No.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic hinted this week that he might go back, and that’s not a bad idea. I’ve watched him in the MLS a few times and his record is phenomenal. He doesn’t run around much, he kind of stands about, but when that ball comes to him in the box – or outside of it – he will score goals.

If he returned to Old Trafford, bear in mind his goalscoring record when he was there for the season, I’m not saying he should start every game, but if you look at games like Wolves or Palace where United were struggling to find the net, he’d probably resolve that in 15 or 20 minutes.

You can guarantee he will come on and provide a bit of magic, set someone up or score – United don’t have that with anyone else.

What he’ll also do is bring some presence back to the dressing room, he’ll bring some control there too, like the likes of Bryan Robson or Rio Ferdinand did. He’s that kind of character, when he was there he controlled the dressing room, and there’s a lot of young players in there, Rashford, James, etcetera are all young lads who need guidance.

They need someone like Zlatan, not just from the goals point of view but from the changing room point of view, someone to learn from. He ticks all the boxes. It’s a no-brainer to me if Ole and him both want to do it. Though he’d probably bring the average age up a lot in the team!

United might do a Burnley once they’re back in the Europa League

What worries me about United is, although it’s good that Ole’s stuck to his word and got rid of players, they’re lacking in squad depth. The Europa League is coming round fast, that means Thursday games and Sunday games, how is he going to deal with that?

He’s not got a big enough squad for it, look at what happened to Burnley when they played in the Europa, their league form struggled massively. I can see that happening to United.

And winning the Europa might be their best chance at a Champions League space, so it can’t be taken lightly. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that they’re not going to win the Premier League this season or come close – so it’s a chance at silverware, too.

It’s hard for players to suddenly start playing on a Thursday night. When they start travelling and coming back and getting tired from these extra matches, I can see another huge dip in their performances in the league.

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