Trying to make sense of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United


There was something truly surprising about the post-match graph detailing Manchester United’s worst home defeats following Sunday’s 5-0 humiliation by Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Of the half-dozen rashes listed, two have been supervised in the past 13 months by a manager. The manager, of course, is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and at many clubs that information alone could have tipped the scales in favor of their sacking.

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And that seems to go hand in hand with Solskjaer, who is apparently set to stay at the helm of one of the biggest clubs in the world at least until this weekend’s game against Nuno Espirito Santo and Tottenham Hotspur.

It’s been 1,039 days since the Norwegian was appointed to take the reins from interim Jose Mourinho, and you imagine the contract says: “Speak as often as possible about the club’s legacy” given the several dozen conferences. previous press releases. in which lore may well be Solskjaer’s preferred tactic.

And no, tradition is not a real tactic.

Solskjaer’s temporary wonder spell

Solskjaer’s performance as interim boss, for what it’s worth, absolutely deserved a longer-term chance to do it, as United started their tenure with eight straight wins, including losses at the outside of Spurs and Arsenal.

A draw against Burnley stopped that, but United won six of their next eight, the only loss to PSG to go with a draw with Liverpool and victory over Chelsea and PSG.

This is obviously very very good.

United lost their next two games before Solskjaer had his interim title tag removed. The Red Devils had claimed 2.32 points per game over their 19 matches, with the anti-Mourinho claiming the throne.

There have been 145 games since, and honestly, it’s very hard to argue that this long-term label was worth it. Solskjaer has claimed 1.81 points per game since his permanent appointment.

United’s next move was bad, given the club’s status, even ruling out the last two losses before the provisional tag was removed.

The Red Devils have won twice, drawn and lost six times, finishing five points from the top four with 66 points. They lost to Wolves and Everton, drew Huddersfield and lost to Cardiff 2-0 with their top-four dreams already shattered.

They were sixth when he took over from Mourinho. They finished sixth five months later. OK?

First full year – 2019-20

It was a difficult time after a long year at Old Trafford and there was reason to promise as the club embarked on a new season.

Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James entered, while Romelu Lukaku, Ander Herrera, Ashley Young and Chris Smalling were among those who left town (only Smalling’s departure was a loan).

The vibes were great when a United led by Maguire crushed Chelsea 4-0 to start the season, but disappointment quickly surfaced with a draw against Wolves, a loss against Palace and a draw with Southampton.

The Red Devils claimed two wins and placed 14th after a late October home loss to Liverpool, ninth in early December, and the losses to Spurs and Man City four days apart meant a fifth place ahead the Festive Fixtures.

A miserable January saw losses to Arsenal, Liverpool and Burnley with a dust-dusting Norwich City blowout, but Solskjaer got the ship right and United no longer lost in the PL game leading to the pandemic break and then for the whole Restart project.

By righting the ship, we mean signing Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese wizard has arrived for the next game, a draw with Wolves, and United have nine wins and five draws, with Fernandes getting eight goals and seven assists in that streak.

United went to the Europa League semi-finals surviving at Club Brugge, LASK and Copenhagen before losing to Sevilla.

And so United went from Solskjaer’s sixth to half-season to the third of their first full season, and we think it’s because of Bruno Fernandes.

Bruno Fernandes and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, February 2020 (Photo by PAUL ELLIS / AFP via Getty Images)

Second full year – 2020-21

Desperately in need of a central midfielder to do the heavy work behind Bruno Fernandes and in dire need of a central full-back to team up with Maguire – but not off the pitch – United bought… two teenage strikers, l full-back Alex Telles and free agent Edinson Cavani.

Donny van de Beek’s purchase half met a need, but it doesn’t look like Solskjaer is interested in the player, who hasn’t been developed further before his eyes. In addition to not signing a CB, the club sold four defenders: Chris Smalling, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Marcus Rojo and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.

How did it go?

Crushed 6-1 by Spurs at Old Trafford, good humor returned thanks to a loss for PSG, a draw with Chelsea, and the hammering of Leipzig.

Those Champions League wins became the prelude to a group stage meltdown, a 3V-1D start continued with losses to PSG and Leipzig.

The run that followed in the Europa League, however, was impressive, as United had no issues with Real Sociedad, won at AC Milan to advance to the quarter-finals, and then passed Granada. and Rome before falling to Villarreal in the final.

Returning to PL, United once again sat incredibly low on the table at the start of the season (15th on November 1), but achieved a huge unbeaten streak that saw the first – first! – before January 12.

That winning streak ended on January 27 at Sheffield United – at Old Trafford! – and United finished second for the remainder of the season, finishing 12 points behind Man City and eight points ahead of fifth.

Even though they lost first place and lost to their neighbors, second place was nice.

Start of the third full year (possible) – 2021 -22

Look, there just aren’t any excuses or scapegoats, even though Ed Woodward looks set to stick around longer despite his planned departure following the European Super League mess (“member that?).

The club haven’t lost or sold anyone notable to their short-term success and have added Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo. We assume it’s a win by selling Daniel James for a profit of $ 13 million.

But Sancho, like Van de Beek, hasn’t done much at Old Trafford and it’s hard to blame one of the only players in the world to join Lionel Messi as a double-digit goal and passer last season.

United have had a bad season. It’s that simple. In one year with three elite transfers, Manchester United – repeats its name, Manchester United – has six wins, two draws and five losses.

It’s just not good enough then….

What do the statistics say?

They say United shoot more, have more ball, but allow more and more chances while continuing to cheat the expected goals scored and conceded.

Goals in open play (Understat)

2019-20: 47-21 (xG 46-27)
2020-21: 54-26 (xG 49-32)
2021-22: 16-12 (xG 10-12)

xG vs xG conceded (Understat)

2019-20: 66-38
2020-21: 63-42
2021-22: 15-15

Shots per match

2019-20: 14.3 (fourth)
2020-21: 13.8 (fourth)
2021-22: 16.7 (third)

Shots allowed per match

2019-20: 10.3 (fifth)
2020-21: 11.3 (eighth)
2021-22: 13.1 (10th)

Possession per match

2019-20: 54.6% (fifth)
2020-21: 54.5% (fifth)
2021-22: 56.4% (fourth)

Having more the ball than any time in three years, and shooting more shots might be enough to convince a staunch Solskjaer fan he’s out of luck, but look at those xG numbers.

United have taken over XG for three seasons – especially in open play – and this year that just means staying above the mid-table.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s problem

So, is Cristiano Ronaldo a problem?

One of the best players to ever put on shoes, Ronaldo has already scored some big goals that may have allowed Solskjaer to reach the end of October, but even the Portuguese says this team has more potential than production at the moment.

Despite their multitude of playmakers, statistics indicate that United are struggling to pass the ball to Ronaldo in dangerous places.

‘CR7’ has a small sample size so far – 483 Premier League minutes – but his shots per game have sunk from 5.1 to 4.2, his key assists from 1.1 to 0.7 and dribbling completed from 1.8 to 0.3.

It’s also, for what it’s worth, to be fouled only 0.5 times per game, which is perhaps more of an indictment against the referees in Italy than any other. thing.

Defending has never been Ronaldo’s business, but he has yet to register a Premier League tackle since returning to Man United.

He is the 101st-ranked PL player by SofaScore this season, his rating being the same as Jesse Lingard, Douglas Luiz and Demarai Gray. It’s not terrible, especially at 36, but consider that the same site ranked him fifth best player in Serie A last season, first in 2019-20, and third in 2018-19.

So you have to either state that Ronaldo is washed – unlikely – is misused, or both. It doesn’t help that the all-time United manager talks to MMA fighters about using the 36-year-old every time, but hey, that is the life of a club that still relies on this legend. for guidance.

Conclusion: check out Occam’s razor

Is it easier to argue that Solskjaer is part of the solution than part of the problem? No, this is not the case.

But United have been beaten by Liverpool and Leicester City this season, also losing at home to Aston Villa. There’s no signing victory against a good team that doesn’t involve a heroic return to the Champions League, and they were a hit in the League Cup when their No.2 team faced off against the League. West Ham second-choice team.

Consider this all happening as Liverpool and Man City have each lost points three times and Tottenham, Arsenal, Leicester City and Everton have all struggled to open the season.

United are seventh with 14 points and have won just four times. Four of their next six league games are against Spurs, Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal.

By staying with Solskjaer, they are essentially betting their season on him. giving City or Chelsea victories would put United Three wins or more behind the leaders. Not beating Arsenal or Spurs means a likely place behind one of them.

The bet does not seem wise. You can only fail the eye test a certain number of times before the doctor takes your driver’s license away (do doctors have this responsibility? I digress).

He seems like a nice guy so I’d be happy to be wrong. I just can’t imagine that I am, if the Man United standard is still based on silverware.


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