Solskjaer won't blame Fernandes despite penalty miss
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Manchester United go into Wednesday night’s clash with Villarreal knowing they need to win. After losing to Young Boys in the Champions League last time out, a second consecutive loss would all but eliminate them from the competition. And with the club’s midfield struggling at present, it justifies a fiery chat Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had towards the end of the transfer window with his superiors.
Manchester United’s season was going well just 10 days ago.
After beating West Ham 2-1 at the London Stadium courtesy of a late Jesse Lingard winner, they had four wins from a possible five.
But, since then, they’ve struggled.
A 2-1 Champions League defeat to Young Boys was a wake-up call, a shot in the arm they hadn’t originally intended to receive.
Yet defeats to West Ham and Aston Villa in the short time since have set alarm bells ringing, especially amongst the fans.
What has been obvious throughout this recent rough patch is the club’s midfield simply isn’t good enough.
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The players are, of course. Especially the attack-minded ones such as Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.
But it’s the defensive-midfielders who are lacking, especially when compared to the likes of Fernandinho, N’Golo Kante and Fabinho at Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool respectively.
Fred can be good on his day. Yet the Brazil international has been infuriatingly erratic, despite his immense talent.
Scott McTominay is a capable operator but there’s a sense he’s better going forward than roughing it in the middle of the park, where his job is to retrieve the ball.
And Nemanja Matic’s best days are behind him, as his flat performance in their recent Carabao Cup defeat to West Ham showed.
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What we’re saying is that United should have strengthened in this area over the summer, despite investing in Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane instead.
And that’s something Solskjaer feared.
It was reported by the Independent earlier this month that the Norwegian, towards the end of the transfer window, grew frustrated with the club’s hierarchy.
He supposedly grilled them over whether they had enough money in the budget to sign a defensive-midfielder.
And he was also unhappy at the names put forward to him.
Solskjaer wanted United to unearth a gem but, instead, all of the players on the hierarchy’s shortlist were already known to him.
And, in the end, United were forced to settle for what they’ve already got.
At the moment, that doesn’t appear good enough. The Red Devils have looked sloppy in all of their matches so far, even their 5-1 win over Leeds on the opening day of the campaign.
And if they continue to allow this problem to drag on, they may find themselves short when it comes to winning the biggest trophies on offer.
United simply have to beat Villarreal on Wednesday night.
Because anything else will likely see calls for Antonio Conte or Zinedine Zidane to take over intensify, with both managers currently available.
Solskjaer has lost seven of his 11 Champions League matches in charge so far.
And another defeat would be the most crushing of the lot.
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