This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
So after a stunning 4-0 win over rivals Chelsea to kick things off in the Premier League, Manchester United’s bright start to the campaign has well and truly fizzled out.
Following a 1-1 draw against ten-man Southampton at St Mary’s on Saturday, the Red Devils are now without a win in their last three games in the league. And whilst the players must take responsibility for disappointing performances, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to share some of the blame too.
Against Wolves, United looked comfortable in the first-half and had Anthony Martial’s goal to prove their dominance. But the home side’s decision to bring on Adama Traore at half-time completely turned the game on its head, with the Spaniard terrorising Luke Shaw at left-back. What did Solskjaer do about it? Nothing – a substitution didn’t arrive until the 81st minute, while United’s gameplan during the interim remained exactly the same.
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Then after a shock 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace at Old Trafford, United enjoyed an impressive first-half showing at Southampton and deserved their 1-0 lead at the break. But once again, a tactical switch from Ralph Hasenhuttl that saw the Saints change into a narrower shape caused the Red Devils to look a little lost.
Jannik Vestergaard’s equaliser was coming from a mile away, but Solskjaer failed to act in time to respond to Hasenhuttl’s tweaks. It’s the kind of in-game management that can turn defeats into draws, and draws into victories. Or in United’s case, vice-versa. The Norwegian’s inability to show that side of his own game on the touch-line this season raises worrying concerns about the kind of results the Red Devils could be missing out on.
Mason Greenwood’s lively cameo came a little too late, and his youthful audacity meant he became one of the side’s brightest sparks in the closing stages with one shot and two crosses. Could Solskjaer not have rolled the dice with the 17-year-old far earlier, perhaps even straight after Kevin Danso’s sending off? That seemed like the perfect time to react and really up the pressure on the home side, but no changes were made for another nine minutes.
If United are to contend for the top-four this season, the players will undoubtedly have to step up their game. But equally, Solskjaer will have to do so too.