After the highs of the Parc de Princes less than a fortnight ago, Manchester United fans were brought back to earth with a bang in the two games that followed the impressive 3-1 win over PSG. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer claimed United didn’t play badly in their 2-0 defeat against Arsenal, and maybe he’s right, with his team creating enough chances to win the game, but the players weren’t clinical enough in front of goal. United dropped out of the top four as a result.
In the next game, a visit to Wolves in the FA Cup, United supporters knew victory here would present them with a good chance of silverware, with Manchester City the only challenging team, on paper at least, left in the competition. However, the players put in their worst performance for months, easily the most disappointing display during Solskjaer’s time at the club, leaving the fans and manager scratching their heads over what went wrong in their 2-1 defeat.
Wolves played well and were worthy winners, but United just didn’t show up, looking devoid of the passion and creativity that has seen them win so many games away from home up until this point. “It was very disappointing,” Solskjaer said after the game. “What was missing? Quite a lot actually. Today was the poorest performance we’ve had. We didn’t have the urgency or the quality on the ball.”
To go from beating PSG with a midfield of Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira and Fred, to losing against Wolves with Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera, is hugely disappointing and worrying. Lots of players who have been out with injury were brought back into this game but failed to perform anywhere near the level that was required. Maybe that is down to match fitness, maybe it’s mental exhaustion after the PSG tie or maybe it’s complacency, but whatever the issue, Solskjaer and his coaches need to fix it quickly.
Going into the international break on the back of a defeat is always a letdown but maybe that will give the manager the opportunity to put right what has recently been going wrong. While the vast majority of fans are still fully behind the idea of appointing Solskjaer in the long-term, a decision that has probably been made but not yet announced, there were a few doubts creeping in from some supporters on social media.
Having seen the club give the job to the wrong manager so often following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, there’s a genuine fear for all supporters that United might get it wrong again.
They have already gone six years without the title, or even a challenge to win the league, and want to put an end to this wait. Now that the FA Cup is off the table and chances are United will be out of Europe in the next round after drawing Barcelona, the pressure is on Solskjaer. The impressive victories over Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea and PSG are fading in the memory for some fans, and Ed Woodward might start getting cold feet.
United are now two points outside of the top four. A couple of weeks ago, it was entirely likely the club may finish as high as third, but if Solskjaer can’t turn around the recent downturn in form, can the supporters be as staunch in their defence of their legend keeping the job on a permanent basis?
Before the Wolves game, Gary Lineker mocked Paul Ince for previously claiming that anyone could have done the job that Solskjaer has at United. He awkwardly laughed along, while Ian Wright and Alan Shearer split their sides. His idea that he, Mark Hughes or Steve Bruce could have achieved what Solskjaer has done over the past few months is clearly laughable, but there are more questions over the Norwegian’s long-term suitability following the defeat against Wolves.
Mauricio Pochettino, who had initially been a firm favourite, only to fade into the background, is starting to be mentioned once more.
Yet it’s worth remembering that Chelsea, who United knocked out of the FA Cup, beat Pochetinno’s Spurs in the League Cup. Spurs recently lost to Wolves at home, suffering a 3-1 defeat after going a goal ahead. They’ve also lost at home against Liverpool, a fixture United drew, but more striking, lost 1-0 at home to Solskjaer’s team. There is the notion from some that he is the obvious man for the job but will that still be the case if United replace Spurs in the top four?
United have been sensible in biding their time over announcing Solskjaer, giving themselves space to ensure they make the right decision this time. If United’s mixed form continues and they don’t finish in the Champions League spots, most supporters will still likely prefer for their hero to get the chance to take the reins with the benefit of a pre-season and a summer transfer window.
But Ed Woodward and the Glazers won’t have any of the same sentimental factors that sway the fans. It’ll be interesting to see if the men at the top do believe Pochettino is the right man for the job, whether they’d be brave enough to make that choice. Of all the nonsense that fans have put up with since Ferguson stepped down, overlooking Solskjaer, based on present feelings at least, would be a step too far. The anti-Glazer movement peaked in 2010 but the response to Solskjaer being told to return to Molde would likely bring protests on a different scale.
But the owners have to look at who has the greater capability to bring long-term success to the club. Two disappointing defeats aren’t evidence enough to suggest that man isn’t Solskjaer, given everything he’s achieved in the past three months, but he is likely feeling more pressure than ever to reinstall the winning mentality that he initially brought back to the club.
In April, United play the likes of Barcelona, Manchester City and Chelsea, and the results of these games defining their season. Solskjaer must come out with a bang after the international break if he wants to make the decision to appoint him a no-brainer. Can he do it?