It’s now been a little over 21 years since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored four goals in 11 minutes when Manchester United beat Nottingham Forest 8-1. Unfortunately for the current United manager, his results are often in bursts too – for good and for bad.
Solskjaer’s United are a team that tends to run very hot or very cold – that’s not a good sign.
After taking over at the end of 2018 from Jose Mourinho – architect of Solskjaer’s woes at Old Trafford on Sunday – as janitor, a run of 14 wins in 17 games saw the Norwegian get the job.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under tremendous pressure after his side was beaten by Tottenham
United promptly lost their next game at Arsenal quite falsely, but ended that season by winning just two of their last 12 and losing eight.
Last season – Solskjaer’s first full – went in reverse. United beat Chelsea 4-0 on opening day and went on to win just two of the next eleven.
In the new year and backed by the signing of Bruno Fernandes and the rise of Mason Greenwood, Solskjaer’s side rebounded by winning 17 and losing just two of their last 25 games.
So this is where hope comes from now and then. United can, and at times, play as a very good football team.
Under Solskjaer, they can suddenly hit their belts, gain confidence and swipe teams aside for periods of weeks and more.
Likewise, the team can be astonishingly bleak. A defeat is not immediately forgotten or learned from. Too often one tends to quickly lead to another and then misery sets in.
The players’ shoulders slump, eyes are on the ground, and Solskjaer is starting to look less like the homecoming hero and more like the little boy he lost who he first appeared to be when he passed through the gates in 1996. the Cliff ran.
All of this tells us a lot about modern Manchester United and their manager.
It suggests that too many players are mentally incapable of coping with the natural up and down rhythms of a long season and that when the dark days come, their manager does not have the experience of man management – the know-how to get them through. help out. .
United can play football well, but can also be astonishingly bleak
In an interview over the weekend, Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku – resurrected at Inter Milan – claimed the English were wrong in saying he was lazy during his time at Old Trafford.
He’s entitled to his claim, but those in the know will say his application levels at United weren’t always the best.
So why should a player try less at one club than at another? Is it because of the differences in team culture? Is it because of the manager? Is it just because he can?
Especially at United it is not uncommon for players to go through long pauses and then turn up to find new peaks. Less common is consistent performance over a season. David de Gea, Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Nemanja Matic and Luke Shaw all fall into this category and there are too many.
David de Gea is one of a number of players who are guilty of prolonged breaks
Great teams have great days, but relentless predictability and reliability are the foundation for them. Last season, former Liverpool manager Roy Evans – a resident of Anfield’s shoe room for most of his professional life – spoke of the need for what he called ‘seven out of 10 players’. He was referring to Jordan Henderson and James Milner.
Where are the seven of United’s 10 players? Had there been a pair on Sunday they might still have lost to Tottenham, but they wouldn’t be ashamed 6-1.
Clips of the Spurs maul were informative. Pogba’s clatter to Ben Davies at the end seemed to the whole world as a late attempt to get his shorts dirty. Shaw’s ugly hack at Lucas Moura seemed to have arisen from an apparent lack of interest in chasing him.
At really big clubs, changing rooms don’t tolerate this kind of thing. Lessons are learned and learned quickly. At United, who do we imagine the dishes coming out of the rollickings? Maguire, the captain? Solskjaer?
Midfielder Paul Pogba is another player whose performance is anything but consistent
It all seems unlikely at a club that seems to need the mindset shift that Mikel Arteta is bringing about at Arsenal.
Solskjaer has been in his role for almost two years, Arteta less than one year.
At Old Trafford, signing marquees like Edinson Cavani will do nothing to address the fundamental locker room shortcomings.
The players have to work harder and think smarter. If they don’t, it will eventually cost their young manager his job.