The five drastic changes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could make to turn Manchester United’s season around
Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. When Manchester United beat Chelsea 4-0 on the opening weekend of the season there was hope that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had found a winning formula in pre-season, the optimism of the summer carrying over into the new season.
But 59 days later only two more wins have followed, a backs-to-the-wall 1-0 success over Leicester City and a victory by the same scoreline over Astana at Old Trafford.
In that time United have lost, insipidly, to Crystal Palace, West Ham United and Newcastle, while there have been disappointing draws recently with Rochdale (won on penalties) and AZ Alkmaar.
Over the past week it’s become increasingly clear that the option of doing nothing is no longer available to Solskjaer . If the Norwegian thought his summer clear out and recruitment, as well as work on the fitness, had seen United begin to turn the corner, he is now aware just how big the rebuilding job at Old Trafford is.
If performances and results continue to flatline then at some point Solskjaer will pay with his job. So what are the drastic options available to him to try and turn United’s fortunes around and, perhaps, keep himself in his dream job a little longer?
Change the captain
While Ashley Young is the club captain this season, four different players have already worn the captain’s armband from kick-off in all competitions this season, with David De Gea taking over duties from Young when the full-back doesn’t play. Axel Tuanzebe skippered United in the Carabao Cup while Nemanja Matic did the job against Astana.
This squad is short of leadership, that much has been apparent for a while. With Antonio Valencia club captain in absentia last season it was Young who tended to wear the armband on matchday, but he didn’t look a natural United captain and with his own playing time likely to be reduced this season he didn’t seem the obvious recipient of the captaincy for 2019/20.
Changing that decision now would be a bold move for Solskjaer, but he clearly needs someone to rally the troops, because the message isn’t getting through from himself and the coaching staff. De Gea looks an obvious candidate but leading from his penalty area can be difficult.
Candidates are thin on the ground but Scott McTominay could be an option. He has certainly lead by example on the pitch this season, but asking him to drag this squad up by their lapels could be a difficult task for someone still finding his feet. Alternatively Solskjaer could turn to one of his new signings, in Harry Maguire, who certainly commands the respect of the squad given his record and price tag.
Alter the formation
Solskjaer has settled on a 4-2-3-1 for United this season, having played 4-3-3 for much of last term, but at the moment his plans are not working.
While United are strong defensively this season they look too rigid in attack. They are too predictable going forward and have become easy to defend against, as a record of seven goals in 10 games since the opening weekend of the season shows.
Solskjaer could try a back three, which would allow him to get Victor Lindelof, Axel Tuanzebe and Maguire in the same team. It would also reduce the reliance on a midfield which is desperately short of quality and perhaps allow Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, when fit, to both play centrally, maybe with Daniel James operating behind them, and Paul Pogba and McTominay in midfield.
Alternatively Solskjaer could go back to his 4-3-3 in an attempt to liberate Pogba , who remains the one true world class player United have.
His status means he is carrying a heavy burden to carry this squad, but there is no doubt United have missed him this season, with the World Cup winner starting just six of 11 games.
Having jetted off to Dubai for some warm weather training there is hope the 26-year-old could return to face Liverpool after the international break. Given the chronic lack of creativity and goalscoring threat in this squad restoring Pogba to a free role as the most advanced midfielder might be beneficial. It would get him operating closer to the opposition’s penalty area, where his presence would at least create a few more problems for defences who are having it far too easy at the moment.
When Solskjaer said his players “needed to sort their heads out” after the dreadful defeat at Newcastle on Sunday it was the first time he’d shown any serious disappointment in his players in public.
While he can’t be happy with what he’s seeing from them the United boss has defended his stars, in public at least, so far, and has at times appeared vexed by some of the negativity coming his way.
The day before United’s goalless draw with AZ Alkmaar Solskjaer was asked in The Hague about the goalscoring problems and the away form that are holding United back, yet he played both issue down and at the second question bristled at the number of concerns he was facing.
But those concerns are becoming more and more obvious by the game. Solskjaer is struggling to get a response from these players at the moment, so perhaps it is time to turn the hairdryer on in public ahead of the clash with Liverpool after the international break.
There was an admission from Solskjaer last week that his players still weren’t as fit as he wanted them to be and there seems to be an acceptance at the moment that the spate of muscle injuries being picked up will continue as a result of the efforts being put in on the training ground.
But given this is a slim squad and one that is short on quality, it might be time to ease back. Solskjaer has flogged his players in Dubai last January and in the summer and they are showing signs of fatigue already. There’s been no improvement in results for these training methods so it could be time to change tack on the pitches of Carrington
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