- Concern is growing at Old Trafford following a poor start to the season
- Man United pulled off a huge victory over Chelsea but have since lost their way
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer slammed his players after a recent draw at Southampton
- Paul Pogba still wants out while questions remain over United’s personnel
When Sir Alex Ferguson replaced Ron Atkinson at Manchester United, his top priority was changing the club culture even when it meant selling big stars Gordon Strachan, Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath without having replacements.
Roll forward three decades and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is also seeking long-term gain at the expense of considerable short-term pain.
Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez are among the leavers despite United being left short of proven quality and the early bounce of Ole being at the wheel has gone; just two points out of nine against Wolves, Crystal Palace and Southampton.
Sportsmail assesses United’s policy of ripping up the work of Jose Mourinho and how it is affecting the players and fans at England’s biggest club.
Things aren’t going to plan at Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has work to do
SPIRIT IN THE CAMP
Not surprisingly, it’s low after a run that’s seen United fail to win away since February and beaten by Cardiff and Crystal Palace in their last three matches at Old Trafford.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been able to remove some of the unhappy faces, Lukaku and Sanchez among them, but the gamble on forcing Paul Pogba to stay hasn’t yet paid off with the Frenchman looking a forlorn figure at Southampton last weekend.
The penalty controversy between Marcus Rashford and Pogba hasn’t done either any favours. Not only have both men missed their last spot-kicks, Pogba looked a bit frustrated when Rashford wasted two free-kicks from prime locations against Crystal Palace before giving the World Cup winner a go from a less advantageous position.
United players trudged off field following a recent miserable home defeat by Crystal Palace
The rush to youth has been too swift for many. It was clear Lukaku and Sanchez weren’t going to get playing time and Nemanja Matic has been left sidelined for Scott McTominay despite captaining the team in pre-season.
David de Gea hasn’t signed a new contract, Pogba is unlikely to entertain one and it’s going to take a while for the next generation; Harry Maguire, Aaron wan-Bissaka, Rashford, Dan James to be the leaders the club needs.
It’s all a sharp contrast from last December when Solskjaer breezed in, released the Mourinho shackles and promptly won eight on the spin.
Rashford’s case is particularly interesting. Solskjaer and United have put huge faith in the local academy kid, telling him he’s going to be the team’s main centre-forward this season at the age of 21. For all his potential, Rashford hasn’t yet proven himself a consistent goalscorer, and hasn’t netted or played particularly well in his last three games.
David de Gea hasn’t signed a new contract, Paul Pogba (above) is unlikely to entertain one
Solkjaer’s plan looks fairly clear, a 4-3-3 with two midfield ‘sitters’ and devastating pace on the flanks in Dan James, Anthony Martial and Rashford to hit teams on the counter. The team is filled with young, athletic players. Aaron wan-Bissaka is a right back who can defend one-on-one; Harry Maguire a centre back who can bring the ball out.
United have probably deserved to win both away matches this way but haven’t got the cutting edge in the penalty area where Rashford’s goal record is inferior to Lukaku.
Already Solskjaer has been utilising the blistering pace of new boy Daniel James
What they also lack in Solskjaer’s system is a creative No 10 who can thread passes to unlock packed defences; a Christian Eriksen or even James Maddison. Juan Mata is the closest at the club but he doesn’t hold down a regular place.
Pogba could be that player but so far Solskjaer has either used him by McTominay deep where he doesn’t move the ball quickly enough in possession, or on the left of a 4-3-3.
It’s not helped that Pogba’s form isn’t good at the moment and McTominay’s passing isn’t sharp enough either when United dominate possession. The home defeat against Crystal Palace showed Roy Hodgson’s side offering a template how to get results at Old Trafford.
The injury to left back Luke Shaw has denied United another attacking outlet as Wan-Bissaka’s main strength on the other flank is defending. Solskjaer’s tactical options are restricted however by a lack of strength in depth compared to the rest of the so-called Big Six.
Injury to left back Luke Shaw has denied United another attacking outlet so far
Besides Sanchez and Lukaku, Ander Herrera, Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling have also left.
The vacuum will have to be filled by teenagers like Mason Greenwood. He could develop into a top player but here and now it’s unfair to expect him to be a regular game-changer. United’s personnel make it unlikely Solskjaer is going to change tact.
James has made a good impression and his speed will be used this season. Against Southampton he showed he’s probably more dangerous on the left. It leaves Solskjaer with an issue of how to fit Martial back in when he returns from injury. The Frenchman could play centre forward but that would mean shifting Rashford to the right.
He may no longer be the baby-faced assassin but the 46-year-old still looked a lot younger than his age when he took over at United and charmed players, fans and media. The worry lines have started to appear now.
He shed his nice-guy image after the disappointing draw at Southampton by furiously labelling his players ‘a joke’ and ’embarrassing’. In his own playing days, the hairdryer was as likely to come from Roy Keane as Sir Alex Ferguson, but the United boss probably feels these days it’s up to him to lay down the law, and many United fans will be glad to hear him being forthright.
Such a tactic has a limited shelf life. Having laid into the players, Solskjaer will now need a reaction. The next match, at Leicester City after the international break, already looks a biggie with the Foxes being genuine contenders to break into the so-called Big Six.
The worry lines have started to appear for Solskjaer as pressure mounts at Old Trafford
This is why letting Lukaku, a genuine 20-goal-a-season striker, go to Inter Milan was a risk. United need to finish their chances off to win games and Solskjaer is dismayed his team are eighth in the table despite setting up more than seven good chances a match (7.4) – the third highest tally in the division behind Manchester City and West Ham.
When you’ve only kept one clean sheet in 19, the importance of taking those opportunities only increases.
Marcus Rashford is yet to prove he can be reliable goalscorer for the Red Devils
United allowed Romelu Lukaku leave for Inter Milan despite being short on firepower
‘Mason Greenwood is a more natural finisher than them (Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford),’ says Solskjaer, a brilliant striker himself, this season. His words could be regarded as a huge boost for 17-year-old Greenwood, or a bit of a worry for the other two.
Rashford’s penalty miss against Crystal Palace ended his 100 per cent record from the spot but it was probably his failure to convert a one-on-one chance earlier in the game that is a bit more worrying.
Perhaps Greenwood will be given a chance to start before too long. United can’t afford to carry on creating seven chances a match and not winning.
Not many 17-year-olds can score goals in the top flight but special talents, like Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer, have proved it can be done.
Added pressure has been heaped on teenage striker Mason Greenwood this season
When you’re not winning, attitude is the first topic addressed on phone-in shows and on social media. Paul Pogba has been accused in the past of playing with too much of a strut but after being held at St Mary’s, Harry Maguire thinks United’s players should show more arrogance rather than less.
‘We’re Man United – we want to control games,’ he said, evoking memories of ‘King’ Eric Cantona.
The difficulty is United don’t have a Paul Scholes or Cantona who can move the ball with such precision, other teams don’t get a kick. Manchester City have David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, their personalities aren’t arrogant, but they play with that strut as footballers because of their quality.
Solskjaer is going another route – Rashford and James aren’t going to outfootball you, but they are going to hurt you if they can break beyond the back line and be found with a good pass. Maybe Maguire himself has to move into midfield!
United don’t have a player in the mould of Kevin De Bruyne who can move the ball and dictate