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Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been optimistic about his position ahead of the trip to Tottenham. Photo: Mike Egerton / PA Wire

When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer called a meeting on Tuesday morning, he wanted the Manchester United players to speak, but also wanted to emphasize his own message.

That was him to trust. He urged the players to keep the faith. This is exactly where the problems begin.

A minority of players just don’t trust Solskjaer to play them. More and more do not trust his tactical acumen. You feel like you are being considered every week.

It all adds up to a locker room atmosphere that is described as “bad”, albeit admittedly more defiant than this difficult week has passed.

Solskjaer has this week and by far the worst game of his tenure survived so far to oversee a huge game at Tottenham Hotspur today. Whether United really trusts him beyond this game is the biggest question of all.

Solskjaer has made no assurances about his future. He and his staff know that they are under close scrutiny. That still doesn’t mean anyone knows what’s going to happen next. That could be the biggest problem.

The prevailing opinion from a number of sources is that the United hierarchy has no plan for this yet and is currently trying to figure it all out. The consistent line was that they never expected a change this season, which is reflected in their previous 100 pc support for Solskjaer, and that they were “blind” to everything.

That should itself sound the alarm as the signs have been seen in so many United appearances before that go back well past this season. Many would say that it indicates the lack of real football expertise in the hierarchy. This has resulted in a bad decision after indecision, so many elite managers elude them, and this cycle seems to be endless.

A proper soccer director – which was another recurring problem – may have realized and was much of it able to implement a game ideology that made the next manager appointment a fairly natural process. It has now become anything but self-evident, as you can see from the variety of options and the confusion.

Some at the top of the club have long favored Diego Simeone, but know that he is almost impossible to get. The most popular choice is Mauricio Pochettino, but it probably won’t be available until the end of the season, if even then. Antonio Conte is available now, but too many in the hierarchy have reservations right now.

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Sources on the Italian side claim that Conte believes he has a chance at the job in the near future, but others think that is fanciful. It is true that United are concerned about “another Mourinho”, even if those close to Conte are baffled by such a perception. The football people who defend the Italian say it only shows: “United want a yes man”.

The club is aware of how bad it would be if they were behind Solskjaers, given his status at the club Back would pursue alternative options. You want to please him. However, it remains possible that this is wrong for everyone. The big consequence is the widespread belief that Solskjaer was only kept in the job by indecision, accompanied by a vague hope that he can stabilize and hold out the team before a more deliberate decision can be made for the end of the season.

It’s just that attitudes are contingent on avoiding another disaster, and it says a lot that there are no guarantees of that. Events can well develop beyond the control of the club. Many in the game would point out the fact that a change of coach, as well as exploring alternatives, is always necessary in advance of the event, but it is extremely rare for a coach to ever get out of such situations.

It’s usually too far path. Once you get into a situation where it almost goes game to game or a bad result could force a decision, fates are set. Solskjaer (below) doesn’t have to look too far for the modern exceptions, however. The Norwegian himself found himself in precarious situations at two different points last year when the question of what next was at least considered by the club. They signed Bruno Fernandes for the first time in January 2020.

For the second time, after losing 6-1 to Jose Mourinhos Spurs, Solskjaer managed to rally the team. It helped that Liverpool’s 7-2 loss to Aston Villa later that day fueled the idea that was nothing more than a crazy weekend to be written off. The bare reality is also that Solskjaer had a better connection with the squad back then. In short, they didn’t ask him that many questions. There was more confidence. There was more clarity. This could be the most influential factor in all of this.

Clarity and focus are what Solskjaer needs more than anything right now. This was an important lesson from his early months as a player at the club, way back in 1996/97 when Alex Fergusons United suffered a 5-0 loss to Newcastle United and a 6-3 loss to Southampton in consecutive games had to accept. His wife, Cathy, even greeted him at the door after one of those chanting “Fergie, Fergie for the Sack”. “I have to grab the nettle and be honest about the areas we’re failing,” wrote Ferguson in his diary this season. “This is no time to fool problems or make excuses.” It was the same after the 6-1 loss to Manchester City ten years ago. Ferguson went back to basics and set about “turning our attention to the defensive part of the team.” “There was a leak in there that we had to correct,” he wrote in his second autobiography. “This improvement led us into a phase of stability in which we were strong behind.”

The point is the clarity that arises when you break it down carefully and steadily build the team. It doesn’t feel like Solskjaer’s approach is even clear at the moment. Perhaps this is best shown in his match decisions. The selection of the same side for Liverpool as they did against Atalanta stunned the players knowing it just wasn’t going to work. Some felt Solskjaer was trying to prove a point, which reflected how the situation meant he was already questioning himself.

Others felt it might reflect something deeper. Cristiano Ronaldo scores goals, but it is now impossible to escape the reality that it also brings many complications. It is believed that Solskjaer now believes he will have to play against the Portuguese – all the more so when Alex Ferguson’s comments on a UFC fighter were published, an absurd phrase in itself, but the manager does not have the tactical imagination to imagine anything but one possible formation behind Ronaldo. It’s this 4-2-3-1 with such gaps embedded in it that Liverpool found so easy to play against.

If Ronaldo weren’t there, Solskjaer might have been more keen to play the more defensive approach who served him quite well in big games and who looked so necessary against Liverpool. Instead, with so much criticism and so many bad results, he stuck to it.

This is something that has been so terrifying lately. Solskjaer’s tactical ideas were never particularly sophisticated, but they were clear. He knew how to react to better teams and how to secure an application, as with so many victories against Manchester City.

That clarity is not there at the moment. United seem to have so many circular issues instead. It is clear that the team has to change something. Something is wrong with the team’s chemistry, as well as with the tactics. The problem is that some changes are left to a number of gamers who are upset about their underuse. Even if they will obviously still be giving 100pc, there is that subconscious seed of doubt. This is why some people believe that something is “broken” during this term.

There is also the argument that this 4-2-3-1 and this starting XI are a perfect match for a game against Nuno Espirito Santos Spurs could. So it would be some timing if Solskjaer chose this game to go in a different direction. Today is an extremely addicting game because it has the potential to be so bad. These are two teams with big problems, both in situations where many doubt the coach will make it through the season.

Nuno has a decent record against Solskjaer, but that was mostly from a time when Wolves were more on his ideas were set. At Spurs, it’s less of a tuning issue than of wavelength. Everything is out of sync. There is confusion and a lack of connection. For Solskjaer, however, that could be worse. While it’s hard not to believe that United’s much greater individual quality will ultimately beat Spurs, Nuno is still able to build a defense.

The downside is what would it say about United if they lost this game? So what? Would you then be forced to turn to Conte, or the interim period that you actually want to avoid? Here we return to the problem of planning. Here it comes back to the players.

So much depends on the attitude of the squad. It is true that there is such an annoyance that a lot of leaks come from the locker room, but also that the majority still like Solskjaer as a person. You will play for him. But it’s easy to see the exact same cycle playing out again.

United could win the next two games and maybe even lose heavily against City, but it could still make you feel like Solskjaer has done enough to persevere. But what then? The deeper problems just don’t work. The only possible hope for the season might be a Champions League, like Roberto di Matteo did. United should be about much more than that.

Consider this: Many well-connected sources believe that if Pochettino were available now, United would have acted. But that’s exactly what happened a year ago, and they didn’t do it just to end up here. Right now it’s difficult not to trust anything other than the same cycle playing out again.



I’m in the Italian countryside, having a glass of Lambrusco and speaking soccer with Arrigo Sacchi. Welcome to my idea of ​​heaven. Sacchi holds court like a truth-giver; a wise, aging oracle whose advice modern coaches from all over the world will travel to his villa in search of it.


Although Manchester United started the season full of optimism, Manchester United are now facing a multitude of problems that need to be addressed on and off the pitch.




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