With just six games played, Manchester United find themselves 10 points off the top of the table, having lost to West Ham away for the second successive season on Sunday afternoon.
After a positive pre-season and the emphatic 4-0 thrashing of Chelsea on the opening day, United supporters were duped into thinking that this season had some promise. But it wasn’t long before they crashed back down to earth, with a string of disappointing performances and results putting fans back in their place. All the doubts that had been circling came in to fruition, and for some, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the one to blame.
However, the manager made some brave decisions in the summer that supporters had been calling out for. There hadn’t been many making the case to cling on to Romelu Lukaku, although the idea that one of their few strikers would be allowed to leave without being replaced seemed ridiculous.
“If we sell players we will have to replace them,” Solskjaer said in July, with Lukaku’s exit looking imminent. However, a month later, when it became clear that United weren’t going to pay Paulo Dybala and his agent what they were asking, and couldn’t get a deal for Mario Mandzukic, or anyone else, over the line, the manager was left to talk up the potential of Mason Greenwood.
While it is clear that Solskjaer is keener to promote youth than his predecessor, it’s hard to imagine that even he, in an ideal world, planned for a 17-year-old who hadn’t played even a minute of first-team football to succeed a £75 million striker.
With Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez gone, United needed to bring in at least two new forwards, but instead signed a youngster from the Championship, Daniel James. The Welshman has made a positive start to life at United, exceeding expectations for this stage in his career, but he shouldn’t have been expected to be the solution.
When you consider how much money United freed up by moving Lukaku and Sanchez on, it’s ridiculous that the unproven Greenwood and James are expected to lead United to a higher placed finish this season. They should be nurtured in a team full of skill and experience, provided with examples to learn from, rather than having to forge the path themselves.
With Marcus Rashford playing three games in eight days, thanks to Anthony Martial’s injury leaving United even thinner on the ground up front, it was clear early in to the defeat against West Ham that he didn’t look right, and it was no surprise when he went off injured.
It’s insanity that a club who has just earned record high revenues of £627 million are likely to be playing Jesse Lingard up front for the foreseeable future.
In midfield, the situation is equally dire, especially when Paul Pogba is out of the team. Plenty of United fans argued that Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini weren’t up to the United standard, and that may well be true, but they offered more than Andreas Pereira, Nemanja Matic or Fred have done this season.
Herrera agreed a lucrative deal with PSG in January with no offer on the table from United until months later, by which point it was too late. Fellaini went to China and United recouped £10 million.
It’s incredible that United could start this campaign with a worse forward line and midfield than the team that finished sixth last season, but that’s exactly what’s happened, and it’s unfair that Solskjaer should bear the brunt for that.
In terms of shifting on deadwood and bringing in decent recruits, the manager has worked well with what he’s been given, with the three news signings James, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka proving to be the best performers so far. But he can’t work miracles, especially not in just one window, and even more so with penny-pinching owners like the Glazers.
It’s not just the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool that United are falling behind, but even Everton have outspent United for the past three seasons.
While these arguments offer Solskjaer some defence, and the injuries to key players haven’t helped his limited squad this campaign, he’s not totally off the hook. The results and performances have been on the decline since he took the job on a permanent basis, so while the past two summer windows have seen United go short, you could still expect them to have picked up more points than they have done this season.
If United manage to win a few games on the trot, the picture would look so much better, with them still only just three points off third-placed Leicester. Things could turn around very quickly. But equally, if United don’t start picking up victories soon, they could find themselves sliding into the bottom half of the table.
With games against Arsenal and Liverpool on the horizon, supporters will be hoping that tougher opponents bring out the best in United. It’s worth remembering that Solskjaer secured wins against Tottenham, PSG, Chelsea and Arsenal last season, showing that he can inspire a big game mentality from his squad. But equally, United’s form is so poor at the moment that it’s hard to see where the next win is coming from.
There are some fans, largely those on social media who haven’t been to a game in their life, calling for Solskjaer’s head. Maybe there is another manager out there who could get more out of this squad than Ole currently is, and maybe he would even be prepared to take on the career suicide that seemingly being appointed United manager proves to be.
But United cannot keep repeating this cycle forever.
The experience of Louis van Gaal didn’t get them very far, neither did going for serial winner Mourinho, although the fact both managers have enjoyed huge success everywhere else they’ve been says more about the set up of the club than it does them.
At six games in, it’s far too early to decide that the Solskjaer experiment hasn’t worked, and if the club are able in January to sign the quality midfielders and forwards that they should have done over the past two seasons, then United may well have a stronger second half of the season.
But it’s all fairly grim for supporters at the moment, who won’t take any comfort in seeing the huge profits that were announced this week. The Glazers came to Old Trafford to make money, not to win league titles and Champions Leagues, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. Until they start running the club properly, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Solskjaer or anyone else picking the team.
This is the man they chose though and he deserves a proper opportunity to make the most of the bad hand he’s been dealt.