Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Is there hope for Manchester United manager to turn things around at Old Trafford?
When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as caretaker manager of Manchester United in December 2018, he started brightly, winning his first eight games in charge, while his total run of 14 wins and two draws from 19 matches culminated in that famous Champions League night in Paris that saw United qualify at the expense of the French champions.
However, since his appointment was made permanent, things have blown hot and cold for the Norwegian and the Red Devils have been plagued by inconsistencies and underperformance by several key players.
Last season was threatening to derail into mediocrity, until Bruno Fernandes’ mid-season purchase helped steady the ship and secure Champions League qualification on the final day.
When Ole Gunnar Solskjær was appointed, he spoke a lot about the club’s tradition and ‘playing the United way’ and having spent 11 highly successful seasons as a key player for Manchester United, fans believed he had the requisite know-how to get the club back on the right track.
However, if history has shown us anything, it is that great players do not automatically make great coaches and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has so far struggled to match the heights he reached during his playing days.
Despite having been in charge for almost two years, there is no discernible system of play and his team has been largely reliant on individual moments of brilliance to get victory.
Last season, the unexpected rise to prominence of Mason Greenwood and instant impact by Bruno Fernandes proved to the difference-maker, but on the overall balance of play, there was not much to celebrate for Manchester United fans.
It was not all doom and gloom though, and United picked up some notable results, including defeating city rivals Manchester City in two different competitions.
However, the fact that the club ended the season trophyless despite making it to three semifinals was a bit of an anticlimatic finish to the campaign and it has been pretty much the same story this season.
The Red Devils began their season with back-to-back home defeats against Crystal Palace and Tottenham and the jarring nature of the latter loss was especially harrowing, with the Harry Kane and Son connection running rampant in a 6-1 whitewash.
These disappointing results led many to suggest that Solksjaer’s job was on the line but he has responded in an emphatic fashion, winning his opening two matches in the Champions League, with the 2-1 defeat of PSG followed by a convincing 5-0 victory over RB Leipzig.
The Germans have been among the highest overachievers in recent years and made it to the semifinal of the Champions League last season, while they are also among a number of unexpected teams punching above their weight in the current campaign.
Coached by the highly-rated Julen Nagelsmann, Leipzig currently top the standings in the German Bundesliga and they were expected to offer more of a challenge to the Red Devils.
However, they were totally outplayed and failed to match the levels shown by their English rivals who were good value for their victory.
When the draws for the Champions League were made back in September, many pointed to Group H as the ‘Group of Death,’ with Manchester United drawn alongside PSG, Leipzig, and Turkish champions Istanbul Basaksehir.
It was believed that the Mancunians would struggle to qualify from this group but United have thrown the early-season predictions to the cleaners just two matchdays into the season.
The three-time European champions already top the standings after picking up two wins from two ahead of a double-header against debutants Basaksehir.
The Turks currently sit bottom of the group and positive results from those games will put United in good stead to finish first in a group that many tipped them to struggle in.
This is a far cry from the side that was outplayed on their own turf by Tottenham just three weeks ago and lost to a Zaha-inspired Crystal Palace on the opening day.
In many ways, this has been the story of Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and this Jekyll and Hyde persona has been severely detrimental to their continued success.
What does the future hold for Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Manchester United?
While his tactical acumen might still be up for debate, Solksjaer has shown diversity in tactics on some instances in the last one year.
He was able to tactically outwit two highly-regarded German tacticians in Thomas Tuchel and Nagelsmann in the space of a week, while he has also gotten positive results against great coaches like Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, and Jurgen Klopp.
However, he needs to win a trophy to validate the work he has done, while he also has to find a way to get his side playing well on a consistent basis, as this is the difference between great teams and also-rans.
The unnecessary losses to smaller teams has to be completely eliminated and getting his team to work more as a functional unit, rather than dependent on individual components is of paramount importance.
Manchester United’s transfer window was horrendous to say the least and this puts Ole Gunnar Solskjær at a major disadvantage, however, he still has enough quality players within his ranks to make a success of his Manchester United tenure.
Quite whether he would be able to do so remains to be seen.
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