Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has now been at the helm of Manchester United for narrowly under a year. The Red Devils are currently ninth in the table and nine points off the Champions League places, which is becoming an increasingly familiar position for England’s most historically successful club side.
Though their 3-3 draw with Sheffield United was wildly entertaining, it does not make pleasant reading for Manchester United fans considering the disparity in the investment the two clubs have received. In short Sheffield United proved to be everything Manchester weren’t: tactically adept, together as a squad and boasting a manager with genuinely innovative ideas. Surely this result must prompt the hierarchy in Manchester to think they’ve been here before.
Despite how similar this situation appears to be to the stewardship of David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, there are notable differences.
Firstly, the style of play Solskjaer has implemented is similar to that of Mourinho’s, but the major tweak is the rate at which they transition from defence to attack. With a front line of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James, there is an extraordinary amount of pace to burn, which is lethal when played in behind.
Realistically, though that counter-attacking model may be ideal for winning one-off fixtures, as Mourinho proved with victories in the League Cup and Europa League, it is not the sort of tactic suited to a league campaign. You only have to look across town to Manchester City to realise the foundation of their play is rapid transitions while in possession. Yet, Solskjaer appears determined to stick to his philosophy of working predominantly without the ball.
Manchester United will continue to struggle against lesser opposition if they do not alter their approach. Still, in fixtures against possession hungry sides, they may fair slightly better such as the 1-1 draw with Liverpool, but those are few and far between.
One of the main aspects of his tenure Solskjaer has been praised for was improving the toxic atmosphere within the dressing room. The Norwegian has proven astute enough to say everything the club, fans and his players want to hear. But if results do not improve in the long term, the feel-good environment he has cultivated will begin to corrode, and there are some signs that has already started. Rashford’s post-game tweet hardly inspires confidence in his manager.
Some will give Solskjaer the benefit of the doubt considering he has a frighteningly young squad at his disposal, but it is worth noting that is out of choice. He claimed to BBC Sport they “learned a valuable lesson” against Sheffield United, but he ought to take a class or two himself from how Frank Lampard has handled Chelsea’s youthful transition.