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EPL results 2021, Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, will he be sacked, reaction, transfers, fixtures, Cristiano Ronaldo

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It was the armour that was so often used to shield criticism of Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but after a record 29 games unbeaten away from home, defeat finally befell them – and in disastrous manner.

The 4-2 defeat away to Leicester City, a team whose own form over the last two seasons has dropped off dramatically this term, was a greatest hits of every issue which has plagued the team playing one after another after another.

There was the aimless substitutions as Solskjaer left his big-name stars on in hope rather than expectation that one of them could produce an individual moment which has managed to paper over so many of the cracks in his ‘team’ – although calling this collection of stars a ‘team’ seems inappropriate right now.

The defensive woes continued, with the prematurely returning Harry Maguire having all the speed and grace of a limousine attempting a three-point turn after going the wrong way down a one-way street. When Solskjaer said his captain had “been on the grass” on Friday, he presumably didn’t mean smoking it.

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(Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

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Cristiano Ronaldo was kept quiet by his former Manchester United teammate Jonny Evans, despite his obvious raw talent, the so-far underwhelming £73m signing Jadon Sancho is still in desperate need of coaching and the Paul Pogba issue reared its ugly head again.

Through Solskjaer’s own admission, “it says everything when your best player is David De Gea but you still conceded four goals.”

The Daily Mirror’s Andy Dunn labelled it “a sackable performance” and questioned how much longer the club’s legendary striker would be in the dugout.

“To produce a display as downright scruffy and as error-strewn as this one takes some doing but, despite the vast array of talent, United managed it with truly incompetent ease.

“And we all know the buck stops with the manager, which, in a way, is a shame because he is a thoroughly decent character. United, almost to a man, were startlingly abysmal.”

The Athletic’s Laurie Whitwell concurred, saying that any problems that were already rife throughout the team were made even worse.

He wrote: “Under scrutiny for an underwhelming start to the season, United delivered a performance as dishevelled as any in Solskjaer’s tenure. Rather than concerns being arrested, as has happened previously, they were dramatically exacerbated.

“At Leicester, United were chaotic in defence and attack, adding weight to questions raised about coaching at Carrington. Either the plan was deficient, or the players gave loose regard to instructions and whichever one it was reflects poorly on Solskjaer — for aptitude or authority.”

Manchester United have lost two and drawn one of their last three games and are about to begin a run of fixtures which sees them face Liverpool, Spurs, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in five of their next six Premier League games, with trips to Atalanta and Villarreal in the Champions League wedged in amongst them.

It’s a brutal stretch of fixtures that the Red Devils could not be more undercooked for and could end with some big decisions needing to be made.

Foxes dash by Red Devils in goalfest | 01:28

‘HOW MUCH LONGER CAN THIS GO ON FOR?’

John Percy of The Daily Telegraph in the UK believes Solskjaer’s position, if it wasn’t already, is completely untenable and his body language following the defeat summed up everything that we saw on the field at Leicester.

He wrote: “There was a moment during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s post-match interview when he lost his way, became incoherent and apologised for ‘rambling’.

“It perfectly captured where Manchester United are right now: they are drifting aimlessly, listless, under a manager who is unfortunately never going to turn this ship around.

“Within an hour of the calamitous defeat at Leicester, the message was reiterated that Solskjaer’s position is secure and there is no appetite to end his tenure, despite another alarming afternoon.

“How much longer can this go on for?

“This is arguably the biggest club in the world, making do with a manager out of his depth. This is simply an assignment that is far beyond him.”

Well, the answer appears to be that it’ll be for a fair bit longer with no one able to actually make a decision on his future.

The leadership of Manchester United at an executive level is at a crossroads, with current chief Ed Woodward stepping down at some point before the end of the year – although his exit date is still unknown – and his likely replacement Richard Arnold still not confirmed to take over. Or will the commercially-driven Glazers step in and make the call?

This directionless disease looks about as terminal in the boardroom as it does on the pitch at the moment.

(Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Solskjaer is currently three months into a new three-year contract he signed on the back of losing the Europa League final on penalties to current Champions League group rivals Villarreal. Another season without a trophy. His assistant, Mike Phelan, is just two weeks into his new three-year deal.

The decision to hand out those contracts when they did looks even worse with the benefit of hindsight than it did at the time, but that level of incompetence emblematic of what the club has experienced since 2013, when Sir Alex Ferguson left.

David Moyes was sacked nine months into a six-year contract, Louis van Gaal was sacked two years into a three-year deal (when he wanted to sign just a two-year one initially) and Jose Mourinho was sacked 11 months into a new two-and-a-half-year misplaced show of faith.

With Woodward still in charge and unlikely to what to end his time at the club with a fourth sacked manager in eight years, and his replacement unlikely to start his time with the same decision, Solskjaer, rightly or wrongly, appears to have time on his side.

POGBA DILEMMA MAY SOLVE ITSELF

So how does he fix it?

He has done it before, when United were ninth in December 2019 and Solskjaer oversaw back-to-back wins over Tottenham and Manchester City. Then following consecutive losses to Liverpool and Burnley later that season, he beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to spark a sprint home to a third-place finish.

Following the indignity of an untimely exit from last season’s Champions League at the group stages, United beat Everton 3-1 and then went on a nine-match unbeaten run to briefly go to the top of the table for the first time in years.

But this time feels different. During those moments, Solskjaer was still putting out fires at the club that were lit under Mourinho, and United we always going to get a little burned from time to time. Now he has one of the best squads – if not the best – in the league, and the problems are still debilitating.

“To be honest, we have been having these kind of games for a long time. We have not found the problem, conceding easy goals, stupid goals,” said Pogba after the game.

“We need to be more mature, play with more experience and arrogance in a good way. We need to find something, we need to change.”

Spurs defender saves a man’s life | 01:13

Perhaps Pogba is the one to change. It is five years since he rejoined the club and still there seems no position for him. On the left is where he has played his best football, but it deprives Manchester United of a winger, meaning only one of Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Martial will play on the other side. The No.10 position is filled by Bruno Fernandes, who appears to have almost single-handedly turned around the club’s fortunes since his arrival, and playing in central midfield, while adding creativity, leaves the defence woefully exposed.

“We’ve seen a team that’s been picked today with (Mason) Greenwood, (Jadon) Sancho, Pogba, (Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Bruno) Fernandes in that team,” former Manchester United captain Gary Neville said on Sky Sports.

“I wouldn’t want to be a defender in that team. I’d love them as players but not all in the same team. There’s not enough workhorses.”

The BBC’s former Manchester City defender Micah Richards agreed, adding: “They don’t really have an identity. With Man United of the past, you know they had wingers, getting strikers into the box, midfielders running into the box also.

“Now, Ole has to make some harsh decisions. Whether he leaves some of his big guns out, puts one on the bench or just goes back to basics and finds the plan for how to get this team playing together.”

One of those harsh decisions may be leaving out Pogba, who is still mulling over a new contract with the club and is free to sign for someone else in little more than six weeks. As it stands, there is no sign of him staying and the jury is still out on whether United are a better team with or without him.

Bobby’s Reds run riot against Watford | 01:31

WHAT’S NEXT?

Ultimately, some big decisions need to be made at the club. It will start with Solskjaer and how he injects some life into this dejected and despondent group of superstars. He has done brilliantly in repairing the mood at the club after Mourinho but now he has to make some unpopular decisions.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Pogba and Sancho are all in the firing line.

If he fails to make those calls, or makes them incorrectly, then it’ll be up to those above him to make the decision a lot easier for him.

By December 1st we will know the results of that horror run of fixtures against Liverpool, Spurs, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in the Premier League and against Atalanta (twice) and Villarreal in the Champions League.

We’ll likely also know whether Solskjaer will stick around for at least another few months of his new deal or not too.

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