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5 Talking Points from a Difficult Week

Added by Philip Meese on 28 Feb 2019 20:43

A look at some of the Manchester United talking points from the last two matches.

By Philip Meese

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It’s been quite an eventful week for Manchester United, and one which has come at a price. The goalless draw with Liverpool cost the Red Devils three players, and seriously compromised the fitness of another. Last night’s win over Crystal Palace will have also given Ole Gunnar Solskjær serious food for thought, as he attempts to navigate United’s path to a top four finish, which would surely guarantee him the job on a permanent basis.

Sánchez is Clearly way down the Pecking Order

Alexis Sánchez is in danger of becoming one of the biggest transfer flops in United’s history. While they may not have paid a transfer fee for the Chilean, he is the highest paid player at the club on a reported £500,000 per week. It’s fair to say that in the thirteen months he has been at Old Trafford, he has done very little to justify that salary.

Make no mistake, the Sánchez of three years ago would be a fantastic asset to the current United setup. Unfortunately, he has lost at least a yard of pace since then and looks a shadow of the player that had a ratio of a goal every two games for Arsenal. At United this has declined to one in every eight, hitting just five goals from 40 appearances.

When Juan Mata had to come off injured after 25 minutes against Liverpool, Solskjær selected Jesse Lingard to replace him. The is the same Jesse Lingard who was deemed not fit enough to play 90 minutes at the start of the game due to concerns that he hadn’t fully recovered from the hamstring injury sustained against Paris-Saint Germain. Lingard didn’t even last half an hour and Solskjær was forced to bring on Sánchez for him. He probably should have just done this to start with, one of the very few mistakes he has made since taking charge.

Andreas Pereira was the first substitution of the game, replacing Ander Herrera after 21 minutes. The fact that he would rather have a half-fit player and a bit-part squad member on the pitch than United’s highest earner tells its own story. Sánchez was probably only selected at Selhurst Park last night due to lack of alternatives.

McTominay and other Academy Players Have Hope for the Future

While no official decision has been announced about Mourinho’s permanent replacement, it seems to be generally accepted that Ed Woodward would be foolish to give the job to anyone but Solskjær. The fans and media are both expecting the announcement, although it’s unlikely to come before the end of the season.

Scott McTominay was definite favourite of Mourinho’s but has been more or less side-lined since the Norwegian took charge. It seemed that Solskjær just didn’t rate the academy product but was forced to play him in the last two games following an injury to Nemanja Matić. To McTominay’s credit he performed impressively, especially against Liverpool. While nobody expects him to keep the Serbian out of the team once he is fit again, similar performances in the future may give him a selection headache when that happens.

Solskjær is a big believer in promoting youth prospects, and knows that it is expected of any United manager. He has been true to this philosophy since returning to Old Trafford, having handed first team debuts to Dutch youngster Tahith Chong, and giving James Garner his first appearance against Palace last night. He also gave Angel Gomes a run out in his first home game against Huddersfield Town in December.

If he is given the job full time in the summer, it will be interesting to see whether he integrates some of the players United have loaned out this season, such as Axel Tuanzebe, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Demetri Mitchell.

Lindelof could be a future Captain

This has been something of a breakthrough season for Victor Lindelöf. Twelve months ago, he was being talked about as another expensive flop who United were going to be forced to cut their losses on. He was also being linked with moves to other clubs throughout the summer.

Even before José Mourinho was sacked Lindelöf seemed to have settled down to become an integral part of the team this season, and this has continued under Solskjær. Even from his first appearance in 2017, it was quite clear that the Swedish international was the type of defender who was very adept at playing the ball out from back. The questions that were being asked were in relation to his lack of pace, stamina and positioning.

Unlike his team mate Eric Bailly, Lindelöf will never be the quickest of players, but he seems to have adapted the other areas of his game to ensure that he is not fazed by the demands of the Premier League any more. He has been United’s standout centre-back in the last three months, and seemingly one of the first names on the team sheet.

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If he keeps up this level of performance, or even improves further, he would surely be a fantastic candidate for a future captain. Centre-backs usually make great skippers and given that he is still only 24 years old, and has his best years ahead of him, this must be in Solskjær’s thinking should he be given the manager’s job full time.

Possible solution to United’s right-wing problem

Over the last few years, United have had a variety of wingers who have come and gone. The likes of Memphis Depay, Wilfried Zaha and Adnan Januzaj have all long since departed the club. Alexis Sánchez, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are all forwards who are still at the club that are more than capable of playing out wide. The problem is that all these players are more comfortable on the left but only Zaha, who was never given much of a chance at Old Trafford, is at ease with playing on the right flank. The only regular first teamer on United’s payroll who has excelled in that problem position is the currently injured Jesse Lingard, and occasionally Juan Mata has too. Neither of them would consider it their natural position, however.

Against Palace last night, Solskjær was forced to once again juggle the squad and tried something which could be very effective in the future. Portuguese right-back Diogo Dalot, who played on the wing in his youth days at Porto, and Ashley Young were put on the right together, interchanging positions at various points in the game. As a result, the team looked more balanced down that side than it has done in years.

Young’s advancing years mean that this is clearly not a long-term solution, but with the treatment room at Carrington full to bursting at the moment, it could be a viable option for the remainder of this season.

Time for Fred to be Red or Dead

Fred started his first United game since the F.A. Cup tie with Reading last night, and his lack of match fitness showed. This was especially apparent in the first ten minutes when he wildly misplaced two passes. As the game wore on the Brazilian seemed to settle down, keeping it simple rather than attempting anything spectacular. For the first time in months, he didn’t look out of place in a United shirt. Many United fans weren’t convinced, however, with many of them taking to social media to say he ought to sold.

Like Sánchez, Fred hasn’t had the best of times since joining from Shakhtar Donetsk last summer. He has looked lost at times, seemingly struggling to adjust to the pace of the Premier League. There is also the added pressure that he was United’s biggest signing of the summer, but he looks far removed from the player that Pep Guardiola was reportedly interested in taking to Manchester City last year. There’s a theory that the Blues are just pretending to be interested in certain players just so that United will step in and take them.

Victor Lindelof has proved that a bad start doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not fit to be a United player. Given how many injuries the club have right now, especially in midfield, Fred will never get a better chance to stake his claim for a regular place in the first team. If he doesn’t, the fans who voiced their displeasure last night may well get their wish.

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Features

Surely Ole has earned his chance?

Added by Philip Meese on 21 Feb 2019 21:29

Why Ole Gunnar Solskjær has surely done more than enough to be given a chance at managing United permanently.

By Philip Meese

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Since Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over as interim manager back in December, a massive cloud has been lifted from above Old Trafford that had been there for over five years. This was mainly down to the fact that for most of that time, the football on offer has been dull and uneventful. Despite Manchester United always having plenty of attacking options during that time, the style of play has been so defensive that the club weren’t getting the best use of those players.

When Solskjær first stepped in, he had a favourable run of fixtures against teams that United would be expected to beat, and duly did. The critics’ point of view, seemed to be that his real test would be against the bigger teams. Two months later, he has won all but one of the fixtures where United were not clear favourites. One or two pundits have speculated that a win against Liverpool this Sunday would guarantee him the permanent position.

Regardless of how United do in this weekend’s fixture, and the rescheduled derby against Manchester City later this season, surely the Norwegian has done enough to justify giving him the job on a permanent basis?

Return of the Attack

In Solskjær’s first game in charge United won 5-1 at Cardiff City, the first time they had scored five goals in one game since 2013. It was almost inevitable that Cardiff would be on the receiving end of at least a comfortable win once José Mourinho had been sacked. One of the sticks used to beat Solskjær with was that all he had done was simply let them off the leash, without any real tactical nous. There seemed to be a hint of jealousy in Paul Ince’s belief that he could have done just as good a job.

Fast forward two months and it is a slightly different picture. United have played away games against the ‘big three’ London teams, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea, and won them all. Although David de Gea (for a change)pulled off some unbelievable save against Spurs, in all of those games, Solskjær showed that he is up to standard tactically, without sacrificing the attacking football the fans have carved for the last half decade. Monday’s game at Stamford Bridge was a masterclass; it never even looked like Chelsea would get back into it.

The only real blot on his copybook was the home defeat to Paris Saint-Germain, but even this needs to be put into perspective. PSG were hot favourites to win the tie, even without the injured Edinson Cavani and Neymar, and for forty-five minutes United matched the French giants. It was only when Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial went off injured that the whole game changed. Their replacements, Juan Mata and Alexis Sánchez are totally different type of players to Lingard and Martial. Suddenly, the counter attacking football that had devastated United’s opponents wasn’t an option. After all, it’s not as though United can currently claim to have a better squad than PSG.

The important thing is not only that he has returned to an attacking style of play, but he has got the squad playing like most fans knew they could. It’s a style that reminds them not to neglect their defensive duties, but also one that lets the opposition worry about what United can do to them, not the other way around. They’re enjoying their football and certain players at Old Trafford, Marcus Rashford being an obvious example, have never before been permitted to do that.

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Same Players, Different Outcome

The only change Solskjær has made to United’s squad since taking over is the departure of the much maligned Marouane Fellaini, a decision popular with most fans. It’s unclear whether he was given any money to spend during his interim period and chose not to, or whether Ed Woodward told him to work with what he had. The important thing is that he has the same group of players that Mourinho did, minus a certain Belgian plan B, and has gotten a much better tune out of them.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, United have regularly struggled to beat teams that, with the players they have had, they should have been winning comfortably. This is exactly what the Red Devils have been doing since Solskjær stepped into the hot seat. Old Trafford is on the way to becoming a fortress once more, one which few teams will relish coming to they way the team are playing right now.

If he does get the job permanently, he will no doubt be given funds to spend in the summer. Knowing how meticulous Solskjær is in his planning, it’s probably safe to assume he has known for some time exactly who he would bring in to strengthen the squad; and who he would get rid of. The fact that Antonio Valencia’s United career seems already consigned to realms of history seems testament to that.

Following the defeat at Anfield, which turned out to be Mourinho’s last match, a top four finish looked beyond United. But that’s where the club are at the moment, and most pundits are backing them to remain there.

The Pochettino Effect

Whether or not Woodward has already made his decision regarding Mourinho’s permanent successor is hard to say, but until it is announced officially then the rumours that Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino will be appointed will persist.

The link with the Argentine manager is understandable, given that he ticks the main boxes required of a Manchester United manager. Like Solskjær he firmly believes in promoting youth players and he plays attractive attacking football. Another attractive prospect for the board is that the fantastic job he has done in North London was achieved on a budget which is fraction of that which he would receive at Old Trafford.

Although he would cost a lot of money to prise away from Spurs, there is a bigger issue that should concern Woodward. Another club that have made no secret of their admiration for Pochettino is Real Madrid. What if United did appoint him and later down the line Madrid come calling? He wouldn’t be the first player or manager unable to resist the lure of the Bernabéu.

Surely the smart thing to do would be to let Madrid have him first, seeing as they go through managers quicker than Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. Let them do the negotiating with, and pay the huge amount of compensation to, Daniel Levy. Nobody stays at the Bernabéu any longer than three years and once he has got Madrid out of his system, assuming United need a new manager, maybe then they could appoint him.

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The Goods in the Back

One of the first things Solskjær did upon returning to Old Trafford was to immediately appoint Ferguson’s last assistant manager, Mike Phelan alongside him. With Michael Carrick already on the coaching staff, he has the basis of a good backroom team, all of whom understand exactly how the club works. Maybe David Moyes might have had half a chance had he not been so quick to dispose of the staff already at the club when he arrived.

Some have speculated that Solskjær is merely the face of this coaching team, the shop window if you will. So what? If it works, which it has done so far, then who cares. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Since this coaching team took charge, Manchester United seems to have gotten its identity back.

It’s all about the club

The most endearing thing about Ole Gunnar Solskjær is that he seems to care more about the club itself than his own role in it. Make no mistake, this is his dream managerial job, and he probably couldn’t believe his luck when he was given the opportunity, but first and foremost he is a United fan. This was demonstrated a couple of times when he was Cardiff manager. In his first game, ironically at Old Trafford, when asked what the most difficult thing about the game had been, Solskjær replied “not celebrating when United scored”. Later that season he was asked about Liverpools title chances and declared “couldn’t care less.”

The man is United through and through and just wants what is best for the club, unlike Mourinho and Louis van Gaal where it was all about their own egos. If Solskjær is to be appointed the club’s full-time manager, it’s a good bet he will be more bothered about the money in his transfer budget than what he is getting paid. It’s probably also fair to say that if the job went sour and he didn’t know how to fix it, he would probably walk away rather than just wait around for the board to sack him so that he gets his contract paid up in full.

Final Thought

Many people seem to believe if United beat Liverpool on Sunday, the job will automatically be his. The reality is that he has probably done more than enough to secure the job, even if they lose. The last two managers have been among the most decorated of the last 25 years, and look what a disaster that turned out to be.

It’s about time they gave the job to a young, hungry manager who looks more at ease in the job than either van Gaal or Mourinho. The fact that he is a United legend, who bleeds red, white and black, is an added bonus. It would also give Woodward and the Glazers some much needed browning points with the fans, most of whom have no love for either.

It is even possible that Ole Gunnar Solskjær has already been given the job, but if so, that would probably be kept under wraps until the end of the season. The board wouldn’t want to risk upsetting the momentum the team have built up as the business end of the season approaches.

But give it him they should. He’s earned it.

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Goodbye, farewell, toodlepip!

Fellaini: A Symbol of Post Fergie United

Added by Philip Meese on 31 Jan 2019 14:26

By Philip Meese

As Marouane Fellaini prepares to depart Manchester United, we look back on his time at the club, and why he was always fighting a losing battle.

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For many Manchester United fans, Marouane Fellaini epitomizes everything negative about life at Old Trafford since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Since Ole Gunnar Solskjær replaced José Mourinho in December, the big Belgian hasn’t started a first team fixture. He is currently injured but even when he has been fit, Fellaini has just two appearances as a substitute under the Norwegian.

According to reports in the media, the midfielder is set for a big money move to China, having passed a medical. As the transfer deadline over there doesn’t expire until February, there is no hurry to rush through a deal. When the transfer does go through, a lot of fans who believe a player such as Fellaini has no right to wear the red shirt will breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Transfer

The irony about Fellaini’s transfer from Everton in 2013 is that not only was he the first big signing of the post-Fergie era, he is also a central midfielder. This is an area that United fans had been complaining about for several years, due to the fact that the last players signed for that position were Owen Hargreaves and Anderson, both in the summer of 2007.

Despite being linked with a whole host of midfielders in that six-year period, Wesley Sneijder being the most prominent, Ferguson preferred to go with home grown options such as Darron Gibson and Tom Cleverley. It was almost as though he was proving a point that he didn’t need to strengthen that area, especially when he played Rafael in central midfield ahead of a young Paul Pogba.

After a summer transfer window where United were linked with huge names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Thiago Alcântara, the signing of Fellaini left the fans severely underwhelmed. What didn’t help matters is that because they waited until the last day of the window to secure his signature, United paid £4 million more than they would have six weeks earlier, due to an expired clause in his contract at Goodison Park.

Moyes

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If the signing of Fellaini didn’t leave the fans feeling flat enough, the defence of their Premier League title was an unmitigated disaster. The fact that David Moyes gave the impression of a man who didn’t believe he was good enough for the job was probably one of the reasons why United went from Champions to 7th place in less than a year. It also meant that Moyes didn’t even last the season.

When Ryan Giggs took over as caretaker manager following Moyes’ dismissal, Fellaini played just one of his four games in charge. This would seem to indicate that Giggs didn’t believe he was a United player any more than the fans did.

Van Gaal and Mourinho

When Louis van Gaal became United’s first foreign manager in 2014, Fellaini quickly became one of his trusted lieutenants. With the Belgian not being noted for blistering pace or acceleration, the Dutchman’s slow, pedestrian style of play suited him well. He scored his first United goal, an absolute belter, in 2-2 draw at West Bromwich Albion. He followed it up with another six that season, one of which put United ahead in a 4-2 win over Manchester City, and was a key part of the side which secured a top four finish.

After van Gaal was sacked following the 2016 F.A. Cup Final, it was widely expected that Fellaini would follow him out of the Old Trafford door. On the contrary, the Belgian became one of the few players Mourinho came to rely on. This is no surprise, as Fellaini fits the profile of the type of footballer Mourinho favours; big, strong and aggressive. The fact that he is not a particularly skilful player was irrelevant. The manager trusted him, and he always gave 100% in a United shirt; nobody could ever say otherwise.

Why Fellaini was always Doomed to Fail

When the word Manchester United is mentioned, Marouane Fellaini is just not the sort of player who springs to mind. In fact, he is kind of the antithesis of everything that Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby and stood for. His height, strength and aerial ability make him a very viable Plan B, and therein lies the problem. No great United side has ever needed a player like that, and the fact that they have relied on it so often under the last two managers shows just how much standards have fallen.

Even before his move to Old Trafford, the Belgian had the kind of reputation for elbowing opponents that Luis Suárez has for biting them. He seems like a red card waiting to happen, even though he has only been sent off twice in his time at United.

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One point that is worth noting is that he is one of the most committed players at the club. His effort and work rate are matched by few. In the 2017 Europa League Final, many believed he was the real man of the match, despite the official award going to Ander Herrera. It’s also worth noting that he has scored in three semi-finals over the last few years, so nobody can say he was a total waste of money.

One of the biggest problems is that Fellaini’s style of play pretty much sums up Manchester United in the last five years; slow, clumsy, painful to watch. The fact that Solskjær is seemingly sanctioning his departure from the club, despite there being no guarantee that he will be in charge next season, tells its own story. Like Giggs, he is United through and through, and knows that there is no place for that type of player at Old Trafford.

After five years of sleep-inducing football, it looks like United are planning on returning to the style of football for which they have been famous. Fast, exciting attacking play that gets bums off seats is even more important to the fans than a full trophy cabinet. In no way does Fellaini fit into that category.

Final Thought

When Fellaini does leave United, it’s unlikely that too many fans will remember him with any fondness. They will probably forever associate him with David Moyes, and all that came after it. It seems fitting that, just as Mourinho’s sacking lifted the gloom at Old Trafford, one of the biggest symbols of the past five grim years is set to follow him out of the door.

Some of the abuse Fellaini has endured from the fans over the years may seem a bit harsh, especially as it’s not really his fault. The whole world knew what type of player he was before United bought him. Nobody can blame him for wanting to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world, as it’s hard to imagine a side like Barcelona or Real Madrid coming in for him. All he has done is play his natural game, and he has done it to the best of his ability.

Maybe one of the reasons he gave his all in every game is that he himself realised how lucky he was to be putting on that shirt. It’s a shame some of his more naturally gifted team mates haven’t always put his level of effort in over the years. The fact is that everything that has happened at Old Trafford over the last five years just isn’t Manchester United. Marouane Fellaini is the biggest example of that; he just isn’t a United player.

Never has been, never will be.

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Features

Solskjær - The Player's Choice!

Added by Philip Meese on 08 Jan 2019 20:04

Why Ole Gunnar Solskjær might be exactly the manager Manchester United have been looking for.

By Philip Meese

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Ole Gunnar Solskjær has breezed back into his natural home at Manchester United, and immediately lifted what was a very sombre mood around the club. The Norwegian has won his first five games since taking the position of caretaker manager and reports have emerged that the players are in favour of him being given the job full time.

Despite his fast start, which has seen some of the most entertaining football played by the Red Devils in years, there are still plenty of fans who have reservations about him being José Mourinho’s permanent replacement.

Legacy

Ed Woodward was always going to be in a win-win situation by appointing Solskjær until the end of the season. There are few players that have represented the club down the years, especially in the Premier League era, that are as universally loved by United fans. You would be hard pressed to find one that had a bad word to say about him. His commitment, professionalism added to the fact that he gave most Red Devils their greatest ever moment in football add up to one word; legend.

Woodward has come in for a lot of heat from the Stretford End faithful over the last few years, and earlier this season a banner was flown over Turf Moor during the Burnley game, declaring him a ‘specialist in failure’. He had to do something to appease the supporters, and with Mourinho gone here was his chance.

The current situation is also a win-win for Solskjær because, unless he got the club relegated, there is no chance he could damage his legacy at Old Trafford. As long as he got the team playing a brand of football that was more exciting than that of his two predecessors, not the hardest feat in the world, he was always going to be a popular appointment with the fans. If he is given the job on a permanent basis, and it doesn’t go too well, that might be a different story. But given the state the club was in when he took over, for now it seems he is safe.

Natural

The day after he was appointed, millions of fans around the world watched his first interview on MUTV. The reaction on social media afterwards indicated that the majority couldn’t wait to watch his first game. It was worth the wait, as Solskjær instructed his players to go out and play their natural game, which resulted in a 5-1 win away to Cardiff City. Finally, it seemed, United had someone who played with the emphasis the the opposition should fear them, not the other way around.

It was clear from that interview that Cardiff fans should be very worried, and it’s probably fair to say that most probably wished that United had waited a week to sack Mourinho. Solskjær, having spent almost fifteen years at Old Trafford as player and coach, knows exactly what the fans expect in terms of how the team play. As a result, United scored five goals in a game for the first time in over half a decade.

There is one notable difference between the Norwegian and the three men who were in the manager’s seat before him (not counting Ryan Giggs). Next time Solskjær does a pre-match press conference, watch how at ease he is with his situation and compare it with the others. David Moyes was overawed, like he didn’t believe he was good enough for the job. Louis van Gaal was defensive to the point of being offensive (more so than any of his teams) and Mourinho had the impression of a man who wanted to be sacked so that the club had to pay up his contract. By contrast, Solskjær brings a pleasant disposition and the impression of a man completely comfortable with the demands of both the job and the fans. Possibly a man who was born to do this job.

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Credentials

Solskjær was one of those players who it always seemed would make a natural coach. By his own admission, one of the reasons he was so successful coming off the bench is that he would study the defenders he would be up against when introduced. He would look for their weaknesses, even the slightest thing that he could exploit. As a result he scored 17 Premier League goals from the bench in his career, a record until Jermaine Defoe overtook him.

When he was forced to retire through injury in 2007, Solskjær took up a coaching role and became manager of United’s reserve team. He won the Premier Reserve League, as well as both the Manchester and Lancashire Senior Cups between 2009 & 2010. This led to him being headhunted by Molde, the club United bought him from in 1996. In his first season he led the club to their first ever league title, and repeated the feat the following year. He also won the Norwegian Cup in 2013, by which time he had invoked the interest of several Premier League sides.

A lot has been made of Solskjær’s first job in the Premier League with Cardiff, ironically the first team he faced as United boss, and how it went sour. Looking back though, it’s hard to imagine any manager stopping that side being relegated back in 2013-14, given that they were already in the drop zone when he took over. The job was a poisoned chalice to start with, and it should have little bearing on his chances of becoming the next permanent Old Trafford boss.

A year after he left Cardiff, Solskjær returned to Molde, and guided them to some very impressive results in the Europa League. He beat Fenerbahçe and Celtic to top a group which also included Ajax. Despite going out to holders and eventual winners Sevilla, Molde did win the second leg of their knockout tie.

Right Job at the Right Time

In spite of all the above, nobody should be under any illusions just yet that Ole Gunnar Solskjær is the saviour United fans have been looking for. The first five fixtures of his reign were against teams that the Red Devils should be expecting to win against. Having said that, had Mourinho still been in charge, it’s unlikely they would have won all of them and if they had, they certainly wouldn’t have scored sixteen goals in the process. Tottenham away this Sunday will be his biggest test yet.

There is a story that might be relevant to Solskjær’s situation and could end up in a similar situation. In 2001-02, Holland legend Frank Rijkaard was the manager of Sparta Rotterdam, and they were relegated at the end of that season. A year later, he became the manager of Barcelona and led them to two La Liga titles and the 2006 Champions League trophy.

The point of that story is that back then, Rijkaard offered little to suggest he should be given the job of managing one of the biggest clubs in the world. He hadn’t even played for Barcelona at any time in his career, so he had less credit in the bank with the fans than Solskjær has. Yet he was given a shot at bringing success back to the Nou Camp and look how that worked out.

The fact that Rijkaard has done little in management since then seems to show that, sometimes, the right man can take over the right club at exactly the right time. This could end up being true with Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Just because he has never previously managed a club of United’s stature before doesn’t mean he isn’t equipped to handle it.

Head to Head Audition?

Another irony is that Solskjær’s first real test since taking over is against the man who would seen to be his biggest rival for the position. This Sunday will see the Norwegian go head to head with the man who the media believe to be Woodward’s first choice for the job, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.

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The United CEO is known to be a firm admirer of the job the Argentine has done in North London on a fraction of the budget he’d get at Old Trafford. Add the fact that he plays entertaining, attack-minded football to his belief in the value of bringing young players through, and he ticks all of the boxes for a United manager. He is also used to working under a director of football, another which United are currently recruiting for.

There is a question of whether Pochettino would want to leave a job where he is seemingly untouchable at the moment. While he is under pressure to win trophies and sustain some type of title challenge, it’s nowhere near the level of expectation he would feel at United. The board expect trophies, with Champions League qualification the minimum expectation; as Moyes and van Gaal found out to their cost.

Pochettino has already made Spurs the best team in London, for the time being anyway, but if he moved to Old Trafford he would have a much bigger challenge. The reality is that, despite having done a fantastic job at Tottenham, the only silverware he has lifted as boss of any club is a few Manager of the Month awards. The man he faces on Sunday has actually won more, albeit in Norwegian football.

Unlike Pochettino, Ole Gunnar Solskjær knows Manchester United from the ground up. He knows the expectations of both the board and the fans, he already has the players onside and in his short time in charge has got the team playing the best football since Sir Alex Ferguson. Who can say that the Tottenham manager would definitely be a better option?

Final Thought

Time will tell if Solskjær can sustain the impressive start he has made, especially against the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City. If he does, however, and United achieve something this season such as a trophy and a top four finish, removing the Norwegian to bring in Pochettino, Woodward might just be on the receiving end of another banner flying over the stadium.

What happens over the next four to five months will be one of the most crucial decisions Ed Woodward ever makes. After three disastrous appointments, he has to get this one right. Failure to do so might see him reduced back into a role where he does nothing more than make money for the club.

Solskjær is the only Manchester United manager to win his first five games in charge. He has a genuine chance to stake a real claim for the job between now and the end of the season, to impress his potential employer first hand. Time will tell if he takes that opportunity, but he’s done a fine job so far. Of course, there are several sterner tests ahead than he has faced so far, particularly over the next six weeks, and how he handles them may be the deciding factor.

It has to be said, however, that he definitely looks up to the challenge.

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Who will be the Next United Manager?

Added by Philip Meese on 19 Dec 2018 20:16

A look at the merits of the potential candidates to take over the Old Trafford hotseat next summer.

By Philip Meese, Chief Editor

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José Mourinho was sacked by Manchester United on Tuesday, after two and a half years in charge. A move that seemed to make sense when he was appointed went sour very quickly this season. After a lot of initial promise, including winning the Europa League, his position this season quickly became untenable.

Even before Mourinho was sacked, there was speculation mounting about his successor. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been appointed as caretaker until the end of the season, but who will take up the role permanently? Ultimate United assesses the candidates who are likely to be in the frame, and the pros and cons of each one.

Mauricio Pochettino

The Tottenham manager is apparently Ed Woodward’s favoured choice for the role, and a clear favourite with most bookmakers. He would no doubt be a popular choice with the Stretford End faithful, due to the attacking football he plays which has been lacking at Old Trafford for years. The entertainment factor has been so low at United over the last half decade that even the fact he has yet to win a major trophy wouldn’t overly concern the fans. They just want to go and watch a match without being bored to tears.

The real issue here would be prising the Argentine away from North London. Daniel Levy is known to be a tough negotiator and would be reluctant to lose him. It would cost United a lot of money, somewhere in the region of £40m to bring him to United.

Zinedine Zidane

One of the greatest players of his generation, a man who won everything as a player. His short managerial career has so far seen him transfer that winning mentality to the dugout. In his thirty-month spell at Real Madrid, he won three Champions League trophies in a row and one La Liga title. His departure from the Bernabéu was met with sorrow by the players, all of whom enjoyed playing under the French legend. United’s dressing room could certainly do with that kind of solidarity right now. He is also rumoured to be learning English, hence reports linking him to take over in the summer rather than immediately.

One concern is that despite his achievements in Madrid, the first manager to retain the European Cup since it was rebranded as the Champions League has never taken charge of a club in the state United currently finds itself in. At Real he had players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modrić, and a better squad than most of Europe. At United he would be walking into a dressing room which features a mix of potentially world class, but underachieving players combined with those that are either past their best or were never good enough to wear the shirt in the first place. Manchester United needs rebuilding, from the ground upwards, and Zidane has no experience of doing that.

Laurent Blanc

A former United player who has so far had a successful managerial career and is currently available. He came to Old Trafford at the back end of his playing career and retired after lifting the Premier League trophy in his second season. Since hanging up his boots, Blanc has won Ligue 1 with both Bordeaux and Paris Saint-Germain as well as taking France to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012. His teams are known for playing exciting and attacking football which would be well received by United’s fans.

The only real issue with appointing Blanc would be that all of the trophies he has won were achieved in his homeland, mainly with PSG who can outspend every other club in the division. He has no experience of management in a league as competitive as England. While this has not hindered the likes of Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola, the fact that he has never managed in one of the top three or four leagues in Europe may count against him.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær

The United legend was announced this morning as the man to take charge for the rest of the season this morning. This has led to much excitement among the fans, as the Norwegian is a universally loved figure by all associated with the club. It does seem as though this will only be a temporary appointment, but should he drastically improve United’s fortunes over the next six months, Woodward might have a decision to make. The one thing Solskjær has here is an opportunity to impress if he has any designs on becoming the permanent manager.

What counts against him in some people’s eye is how his one taste of Premier League management went sour. Midway through the 2013-14 season, Solskjær replaced Malky Mackay at Cardiff City but was unable to stop them going down. This should not detract from the fact that the job was a poisoned chalice to start with, as the club were already in the relegation zone with a squad that had received no serious investment after being promoted.

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Michael Carrick

Following a 12-year playing spell at Old Trafford, Carrick retired at the end of last season to join Mourinho’s coaching staff. Following the Portuguese manager’s sacking, the United legend took over training while the club sorted out appointing Solskjær to take charge for the rest of the season. Carrick knows what is expected of a United team, having served many years under Sir Alex Ferguson, and would be a popular choice with the players according to reports.

The potential problem with appointing the club legend is that he is less than six months into his coaching career. He has no experience at any level of management and to put him in charge of England’s biggest club, a huge challenge for even an experienced manager, would be asking a lot.

Roberto Martínez

The former Wigan and Everton manager’s stock has never been higher, after leading Belgium to 3rd place at the World Cup in the summer. He has plenty of experience in the Premier League, and even an F.A. Cup win on his C.V. The one box he ticks most of all is that his sides play fluid attacking football, something the fans have been craving since Ferguson left. He also showed he has tactical nous, with his side 2-0 down to Japan an inspired double substitution saw his side scored three goals in just over twenty minutes to win the game.

The main problem with appointing the Spanish manager is that he seems to be very naïve defensively, something that was shown in his time at Everton. He inherited a good defence from David Moyes at Goodison Park, which provided a solid base for his first season. When it came to replace them, he struggled. Given that United’s biggest problems this season have come from the back, Martínez probably wouldn’t the best appointment to sort them out.

Leonardo Jardim

The Portuguese manager has been tipped to land one Europe’s big jobs soon following his departure from Monaco in the summer. In 2016-17, he overcame the riches of PSG to claim the Monte Carlo club’s first Ligue 1 title in 17 years, playing some superb football. It was under Jardim that Anthony Martial showed the promise that persuaded United to sign him.

As is the case with Blanc, the risk would be the fact that Jardim has never managed in any of the top leagues. His other achievements have come with Olympiakos in Greece and Beira-Mar in Portugal, which may count against him when Woodward eventually appoints Mourinho’s permanent successor.

Massimiliano Allegri

One of the least likely appointments on the bookmakers list of potential replacements, with most making him around 16/1 to take over at Old Trafford. There is no question he would be welcomed with open arms if Woodward could persuade Allegri to leave Juventus. When the two sides met, the Italians passed it around United’s midfielders as though they weren’t even there. They were even the better side when the Red Devils somehow managed to win.

There would be no cons to appointing Allegri, other than the fact that it would be his first taste of English football. The problem would be that you must ask the question why he would leave Turin when he has built a one of the best sides in Europe, who are strongly fancied to win the Champions League, to take over a club in turmoil. It doesn’t seem likely, somehow.

Eddie Howe

There in no question that Eddie Howe has done an unbelievable job at Bournemouth. Since his appointment in 2012, he oversaw two promotions in three seasons to get the club in the top flight for the first time in their history. At the age of just 41, he is very much a manager for the future and will no doubt be snapped up by a bigger club in the years to come.

What would no doubt count against him is that the board already appointed one manager in David Moyes who, like Howe, had never won a trophy or competed in the Champions League before. It is unlikely they would do that again anytime soon, however promising they might be.

Nicky Butt

Another United legend on the payroll at Old Trafford, Butt is currently the Head of Academy at the club. The football they are playing, such as coming from behind away to Valencia last week, is far more entertaining than what the first team have churned out this season. Butt is Manchester United through and through and understands exactly what makes the club tick. His appointment would not only inject some passion into the team, but he has a better idea than anyone which youth prospects are ready for their chance on the big stage.

As with Carrick, the downside is inexperience at this level. Coaching the youth players, who are hungry and eager to impress, is a whole different ball game to managing the egos in a dressing room full of international footballers. He may be a great choice for the future but is unlikely to be given the job anytime soon. There is also the fact that he is doing a first-class job with the academy.

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Ryan Giggs

Whenever Manchester United are looking for a new manager, it’s inevitable that the club’s most decorated player will be mentioned as one of the candidates. He briefly took over for the final four games of the 2013-14 season following the sacking of David Moyes and was assistant manager to Louis van Gaal for his two years in charge, leaving the club when the Dutchman was sacked in 2016. Giggs was appointed as manager of Wales in January 2018.

There is no question that he could probably have taken over the job on a caretaker basis until the end of the season, as plenty of managers have combined club and international management in the past. It is hard to see him being given a chance permanently just yet, as he is less than a year into his first full time managerial role. This makes him no more likely a candidate for the job than when he was overlooked before.

Diego Simeone

The Argentine was once a hated figure at Old Trafford following his antics at the 1998 World Cup which saw David Beckham sent off, but that is long in the past. Since retiring as a player in 2006, Simeone has gone on to become one of Europe’s most sought-after managers. Since taking over at Atlético Madrid in 2011 he has won La Liga, the Copa Del Rey and two Europa League titles as well as twice finishing runner up in the Champions League. As such, he is constantly being linked to other clubs, and it seems a matter of time before he eventually leaves Madrid.

One thing that might count against Simeone, certainly in the eyes of the fans, is that his overall approach to the way he sets his teams up isn’t too dissimilar to Mourinho’s. A compact and well organised defence with an onus seemingly on counter attack has been the United way for almost five years now, and the fans want a break from it. 

Arsène Wenger

A surprise entry, but one that seems to be on the list of candidates with some bookmakers. An enemy of United for so long, just like Mourinho, it would be a strange twist to the tale but it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. Wenger has more Premier League experience than anyone else on the list, and there is no doubt he would bring a more entertaining brand of football to Old Trafford than has been seen in recent years. He is also a free agent having left Arsenal after 22 years in the summer.

The reality is that the last two managers that Woodward have appointed have been accused of being out of touch with modern football, something that has also been levelled at Wenger. With this in mind it seems there is little chance he will be the next manager.

Antonio Conte

Another manager with a successful track record, having won Serie A with Juventus and the Premier League with Chelsea, who he left in the summer. He is currently without a club following his departure from Stamford Bridge, and is free to talk to other clubs now that he has settled his contract dispute with the London club. He knows the Premier League, and his reputation would command the respect of the dressing room.

The major drawback in appointing the Italian would be whether they wanted another Chelsea cast-off, given how it ended with Mourinho. The fact that he also seemed to lose the dressing room in his second season provides a glaring similarity to what happened with the manager United recently sacked. Despite Conte being one of the favourites for the job, his appointment seems rather unlikely.

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