Written by Ian Hope @halftimepiesite
Its twelve months since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over the reigns at Manchester United. When it comes to the Norwegian there appears a clear divide. You are either a glass half full or glass half empty person. Or in the toxic world of social media either #OleIn or #OleOut. Whilst the figures will show Solskjaer’s United are no better off than when Mourinho left the club they now have a clear objective and plan going forward. Personally I have a glass half full approach and here’s why.
Lets face it, whoever took over as manager from Jose Mourinho would have inherited a broken squad and required a lot longer than twelve months to turn that squad into a well oiled machine. A squad that was made up of players recruited by four other managers and an executive vice-chairman who likes playing football manager. There were players signed by Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.
What Solskjaer has done well in my opinion is start to rid the squad of the players who are clearly not good enough, too old or too toxic. First went Marouane Fellaini who despite trying his hardest was never good enough to wear the red of United. Then the ageing Antonio Valencia who again despite trying his best had become a one trick pony who forgot how to take on a full back and resorted to smashing the ball at a players shins to win a corner.
It’s been clear for many seasons now that Chris Smalling and Phil Jones should not be allowed anywhere near United’s starting eleven. Smalling was always error prone just as he appeared to be settling into some form and Jones, well he is the biggest liability and let down we have seen at United for sometime. Solskjaer got Smalling a loan move to Roma and has kept Jones as far away as possible from the match day squad. The odd occasion Jones has had to come into the side due to injuries he has shown why the manager has ignored him with inept displays at Sheffield United for starters.
Despite scoring so many goals for United, Romelu Lukaku had the touch of a trampoline and despite his size would often be bullied off the ball by a defender. He could never play the lone striker role like Zlatan Ibrahimovic could and had less pace than Dimitar Berbatov did. It now transpires that the Belgian had a poor attitude in and around the squad too so Ole rightly shipped him out.
Despite scoring for fun for Arsenal, Alexis Sanchez could not hit a barn door at Old Trafford. Again Solskjaer made an early call with the Chillean and shipped him out on loan along with his poor attitude.
What Solskjaer wanted was a younger, fitter and hungrier squad. In came McTominay, Williams, James and Greenwood to name a few. Out went the slow Mata and Matic and you can start to see the future of a United line up under Ole.
Every manager needs a number of transfer windows to mold their squads and Solskjaer is no different. To give him one summer window and expect United to be top four is ridiculous when considering everything going on with the mish mash of a squad.
Jurgen Klopp took a couple of seasons to turn his Liverpool squad into one capable of challenging for the Premier League and Champions League. Klopp took time in resolving the goalkeeper and central defence issues that plagued Liverpool for many seasons. Most managers join a club that is in disarray and take time to instill their style on the club unless you are Pep Guardiola who only takes jobs at clubs with ready made squads. Most other managers have rebuilding jobs to do.
Solskjaer’s first summer transfer window has been impressive in terms of recruitment. Daniel James has managed the step up from the Championship to playing week in week out in the Premier League consistently assisting goals and tormenting defences. James’s work rate and pace is outstanding and hopefully he will mature into a fantastic winger.
It was clear for all to see including Mourinho that United needed a commanding centre half and Harry Maguire was identified as the man to build a defence around. Sadly Ed Woodward refused Mourinho’s request but a year later agreed with Solskjaer and got his man. Maguire is a leader and will surely be the next full time captain at Old Trafford.
Probably the buy of the summer window has to be Aaron Wan-Bissaka who is the Premier Leagues top tackler and the best full back United have signed in a very long time. Another athletic player who can get up and down the wing, can tackle with either leg and fits the bill for Solskjaer’s youthful energetic side. Solskjaer clearly worked on tightening the defence, the next job is to work on building a creative midfield. The hope is that the manager gets another couple of summer windows to transform the side. If the next transfer windows are as good as last summers then United are going in the right direction.
An area Solskjaer does not get a great deal of praise for is his tactics. Whilst the squad is very much still in need of work as the midfield clearly lacks enough creativity especially breaking down defensive opposition, United this season have had some promising performances especially against the top sides.
United have beaten Chelsea home and away (league and cup) this season. In the game at Stamford Bridge United played a 3-5-2 which worked well in the first half. When Chelsea came out in the second half, upping their game Solskjaer changed to a back four and nullified the threat resulting in a 2-1 victory.
United have beaten Leicester and are the only side to take any points off Liverpool this season. In the Liverpool game (which most people thought would be a cricket score for the scousers) Solskjaer changed the formation and pushed the full backs onto Liverpool’s main threat in Alexander-Arnold and Robertson. This reduced their threat and made Liverpool play long balls as their midfield lacks the creativity to open stubborn sides up. Had United not tired in the last ten minutes then United would have come away with all three points. No other side has adopted this tactic against Liverpool and it is worth nothing, no other side has taken points off them either. Then there was the counter attacking masterclass at neighbours City!
In this day and age no manager gets long enough to see their masterplan through. Realistically managers need two to three years to see their plan put into place yet with Solskjaer it appears with many supporters twelve months is all he should get.
Whilst performances against Newcastle and Bournemouth for example were woeful you cannot expect this current squad that is in transition perform to the levels of Liverpool or Manchester City. With youth comes unpredictability but United have a plan and are going in the right direction on the pitch and in player recruitment.