Manchester United v Manchester City Match in Pictures
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have been breathing in the fresh, Norwegian air, wondering how it has all gone so wrong in recent weeks. After a miserable run of six defeats in 12 matches, two of those the home humiliations at the hands of fierce rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, Solskjaer would have been reflecting on where the Manchester United tide began to consume him.
It has not been for the want of trying. Solskjaer has gone down every avenue to try and salvage form in recent weeks. United swaggered into the Premier League this season armed with Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho before Cristiano Ronaldo made his own splash.
At his mercy was a starting eleven of top-quality players, capable of all winning matches on their own. It was a team which could have picked itself, such was the initial quality and balance in his side.
Unfortunately, those best laid plans may as well have been a paper airplane thrown from the third tier of Wembley Stadium – as is often the tradition during England matches during the international break.
While most of the Premier League teams would have used the international break for fitness, new strategies, preparation and team bonding, United’s has been an interval of reflection. Ed Woodward and co have been doing so themselves, and according to the Manchester Evening News, their faith in Solskjaer is waning, and their acceptance of a change of personnel is strengthening.
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Yet the former United striker has returned to the Carrington training base and the United axe does not feel like it will be swinging any time soon. However, even if the Old Trafford hot seat was taken from beneath him, United’s problems will not disappear along with Solskjaer.
There has been no sense of plasticity, cohesion, and a dearth of versatility. It is the reason why Aaron Wan-Bissaka, a right-back one heralded as the best defensive full-back in the Premier League, looked so horribly exposed when he was deployed as a more attack-focussed wing-back against City.
It is the reason why Solskjaer has been petrified of straying away from his familiar two defensive midfielder formations, despite the swamping Scott McTominay and Fred found themselves on the receiving end of against Liverpool and Manchester City.
Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo are both untouchable, but formations accommodating both stars in their most dangerous positions are limited, and Solskjaer’s reversion to the five-man defence has desperately tried to extract their quality.
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Yet the Portuguese pair have not been the only players to be granted almost untouchable status. Eight United players all started the defeats against Leicester City, Liverpool, and Manchester City, inciting resentment and fury amongst the fringe players at United.
Varane, Ronaldo, and Sancho were all signed to cater to United’s various problems and weaknesses, but while the club prioritised true masters of their trades, they continue to be without any stars who can adapt to different scenarios.
When Timo Werner’s confidence hit the floor, both Frank Lampard and Thomas Tuchel had the gusto to channel his impressive physical traits into other attacking positions where he could use his pace. Meanwhile, Solskjaer and his staff have been experimenting with Sancho at right-wing-back according to the Athletic.
United are currently a side full of players who are so firmly rooted in their current positions, they cannot move any further forward or back. During the summer, another huge player United were linked with was Kieran Tripper, a defender deployed at right-back, right-wing-back and at left-back.
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They have also expressed an interest in AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, a star who has excelled as an attacking, box-to-box, and as a defensive midfielder. The Ivory Coast star will be a free agent next summer and could be available on a cut-price deal in January if the Rossoneri want to extract some cash.
Manoeuvrability, particularly in the Premier League when the matches are terrifyingly fast and even more regular, is essential to any side who wants to challenge for the title. Versatility is nowhere to be seen at Old Trafford, hence the reason shifting into a three man back-line was like trying to push Sir Alex Ferguson’s statue onto the other side of Old Trafford.
One of Ferguson’s uncanny qualities was his ability to conjure a first eleven out of absolutely anybody and still gain three points. If Solskjaer was to be given his marching orders, a new manager will encounter the exact same issues the current United boss is trying to manage.
And whoever is in charge come January, will have to solve the issue either on the training pitch or in the January window. Otherwise it will not matter who occupies the Old Trafford hot-seat.
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