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EPL news 2021, Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, sacked, next manager, Zinedine Zidane, Antonio Conte, Cristiano Ronaldo

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Manchester United are 100 per cent adamant that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is going nowhere and that he knows the best route back from the dirt track the team is currently on after the latest bump which knocked them off the road.

But a horror run of fixtures is straight ahead, starting with this week’s must-win Champions League game with Atalanta, before Premier League games against Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City – with the return leg against Atalanta sandwiched in between.

If he manages to make it to Watford away at the end of November, he will then have another run of fixtures which sees United away to Villarreal, Chelsea and at home to Arsenal over the space of nine days.

Put simply, by the blowing of the full-time whistle at Old Trafford on December 3 (AEDT) following the Arsenal game, it could have got pretty ugly.

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

After all, this isn’t like any of the other mini-crises that Solskjaer has faced and overcome before. He no longer in charge of a team still traumatised from the Jose Mourinho era, he can no longer lean on implementing a “cultural re-boot” of the club and he now has an expensively-assembled squad which is capable of challenging for major trophies on all fronts.

After all, while there is a young core to the squad with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho still miles away from their already frightening potential, the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba are in the stage of their career where they are expecting to win trophies now.

They are the ones who will get antsy, as we’ve already seen with Ronaldo storming off down the tunnel following the Aston Villa loss and Pogba saying “something needs to change” after the Leicester calamity.

Soon it’ll be clear what that “change” is – if it isn’t already.

And should United finally relent, and CEO Ed Woodward sign off from his eight-year spell in charge with a fourth failed managerial experiment and a sacking, who will his replacement draft in to replace Solskjaer?

THE PROBABLY NOTS

Former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte will probably be the first name of the list for a number of Manchester United fans. He worked wonders at Chelsea in winning the Premier League with a revolutionary style of football before behind perhaps unfairly sacked and heading to Internazionale to wrestle the Serie A title away from Juventus for the first time in nine seasons.

Put simply, he’s a winner and he would provide Manchester United with a discernible style of football for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge.

However, with the exception of moving Aaron Wan-Bissaka to an inside-right central defensive role, his 5-3-2 formation isn’t going to suit too many in the current squad – especially when United are blessed with some of the most exciting young wingers in the game right now.

(Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)Source: AFP

He’s also an abrasive character himself, which was part of the reason he was shown the door at Chelsea and why he ultimately quit Inter. It’s his way or the highway and a team of egos would be particularly polarising to him. The reaction when Ronaldo or Pogba inevitably falls out with him would be too great and we’ve seen this all before with what happened under Mourinho.

The risk is far too high and the money spent on the current squad is even higher. The next manager needs to be tailored to the current squad, rather than build another one in his image and with Conte, you would be forced to do the latter regardless of how brilliant a coach he is.

Another brilliant coach who has probably ruled himself out is the long-linked Mauricio Pochettino, who is currently battling away at PSG.

He arguably would have been the only choice if this conversation was needing to be had 12 months ago, but now, with how the squad has evolved and the big names that have arrived, he also might struggle.

Put simply, if you took Ronaldo and maybe even Pogba out of this team, he would be the perfect choice to mould this young squad as he did with Spurs, but with Ronaldo, you lose that hard-working centre forward he created in Harry Kane and with Pogba you lose the box-to-box energy he so craves.

He has also shown at PSG that he may not be as adept at juggling big egos as he would have hoped as he failed to retain Ligue 1 in his debut season and has an indifferent start to this year, even with a front three of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

(Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)Source: AFP

THE JUST MIGHT WORKS

What’s clear is that Manchester United are desperate for some tactical impetus, and there is no shortage of managers with that in abundance across Europe at the moment.

One is Ralf Rangnick, who Chelsea attempted to fill in after Frank Lampard’s sacking before going for Thomas Tuchel. Rangnick is considered as one of the pioneers of the current crop of high intensity pressing coaches which have found so much success in Europe. He may not be able to get Ronaldo to run without the ball but he would be able to find another nine outfield players willing to. If Manchester United want their own Jurgen Klopp or Tuchel, then he might just be as close as they will find.

However, he has already shown his reluctance to leave his current role as Head of Sports and Development at Lokomotiv Moscow and his relative inexperience of managing a top-tier club could be seen as a big gamble.

Ajax’s Erik ten Hag, who led that fantastic young Ajax team to the Champions League semi-final in 2019 is another highly-rated tactician and would be someone who would be able to unlock Donny van de Beek’s abilities as he did when the pair were together in Amsterdam. He could solve United’s troublesome midfield and is reportedly a target for Barcelona, too.

The same concerns as with Rangnick persist however, and United love a big-name, even if it’s not necessarily the right one.

(Photo by MAURICE VAN STEEN / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUTSource: AFP

THE BEST BET

To tick all of the boxes that Manchester United want, it appears to be a big-name manager, who is capable of keeping a bunch of egos in check whilst still commanding the respect of the players and having a presence that will drive results out of them when needed.

Oh, and is better at all of that than Solskjaer currently is.

So how about Zinedine Zidane? He won three Champions League titles at Real Madrid and showed he is capable of doing all of the above. There is still an air of suspicion around him that he isn’t as good as his record makes him look and that the Real Madrid squad he had was so strong that they effectively managed themselves.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because United also have a team heavy on stars, egos and, of course, Ronaldo. It’s not a long-term success plan but if the club’s hierarchy is adamant on seeing a return from their two-year Ronaldo splurge, then this might be the best option.

After that, a more tactical coach can come in and mould a more flexible squad in his image.

Either that, or give it to Ronaldo so at least Manchester United can rest assured that he will at least keep himself happy at all times, as well as providing the commercial department another boost.

(Photo by Ina Fassbender / AFP)Source: AFP

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