The postponement of the Premier League season has come at an inopportune time for Manchester United. The Red Devils had been in the midst of by far their best run of the season prior to the halt in play. They’ve gone 11 matches undefeated in all competitions with eight wins and three draws.
They defied the Premier League 2020 news by doing the league double on fierce rivals Manchester City, and if City’s Champions League ban for next season holds up, they would qualify for the competition as the fifth-placed team.
Meanwhile, they are also all but through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League after a 5-0 victory away to LASK in their round-of-16 first leg.
In light of their fine run, it’s time for SBOTOP to take a look at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and decide whether or not he has done enough to hold onto his job as United manager.
The Case For Keeping Solskjaer
If one were to make a case for Solskjaer keeping his job, one of the big marks in his favour is how he has maintained the proud United tradition of promoting the youth.
Mason Greenwood has obviously been the big success story this season. The 18-year-old has had ample opportunities to play under Solskjaer, and he’s repaid that faith with 12 goals in 36 appearances this season.
Some would argue that Solskjaer had to play Greenwood by necessity due to United’s lack of attacking options, but Ole still deserves some credit for empowering the youngster and furthering his development.
Aside from Greenwood, the likes of Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe have also been afforded chances to impress this season.
Meanwhile, Solskjaer has also helped forwards Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to their best seasons to date. Rashford was well on his way toward breaking the 20-goal barrier prior to his injury. Martial (16 goals in 34 appearances) was also having his best season to date as Solskjaer’s decision to use him as the lead striker has paid dividends.
Solskjaer also deserves credit for finally getting the best out of Fred, who looked like a massive bust under the management of Jose Mourinho.
Moreover, it likely isn’t a coincidence that United have kicked on since the arrival of Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese playmaker has provided that creative spark in midfield United have sorely missed this season with the injury to Paul Pogba, which was something Solskjaer had no control over.
Fernandes’ added attacking flair, coupled with United’s renewed defensive solidity — they’ve conceded just twice in their last 11 — has proven to be the missing link that has pieced Solskjaer’s system together.
The Case Against Keeping Solskjaer
As impressive as their recent Premier League 2020 results have been, they still don’t change the fact that Solskjaer hasn’t quite proven that he is the calibre of manager a club the size of United need if they are to become one of the best teams in the world once again.
United’s amazing unbeaten run in the first few months of Solskjaer’s reign was a bit misleading; they subsequently fell back down to earth at the tail-end of last season and carried that over to the start of this season.
There have been too many instances where United have looked lost, particularly in attack. While Solskjaer’s counter-attacking system has helped United perform well against top clubs like City, Chelsea, and Liverpool, it has not worked nearly as well against smaller clubs who are content to sit back and deny United space to break.
The absence of Pogba and Rashford has obviously been a significant factor in their struggles in attack, but a top manager should still find a way to create solutions and alternative ways to play. After over a year in charge at United, Solskjaer has yet to show that ability.
The first few weeks of having Fernandes in the squad have certainly been encouraging. And with a few more investments to the squad, maybe Solskjaer can successfully take United to the next level.
But there are two much more accomplished managers in Mauricio Pochettino and Massimilano Allegri available on the open market right now. They have proven the ability to lead their clubs to the top levels of the sport, and if United don’t act decisively and decide to stay with Solskjaer, they could miss out on both.
Considering the circumstances, Solskjaer has done about as well as could be reasonably expected of him at Old Trafford. This current United squad is clearly not of the same quality as Liverpool or City, but Solskjaer has moulded a system that has United challenging for a top-four spot. For that, he should be commended.
However, United should have higher ambitions than just being in the top four. They need to be competing for the Premier League title and the Champions League once again. And to accomplish that, they must significantly upgrade both their squad and their manager.
Pochettino and Allegri are two managers with much more proven track records of success than Solskjaer. Either one would be the sort of manager capable of taking United to the heights they should be reaching for.
Perhaps in time, Solskjaer can develop into a top manager who can lead a club the size of United to great things. But United don’t have the luxury of time to see whether the Norwegian will be up to the task. Instead, the clock is ticking on Pochettino and Allegri as it’s just a matter of time before they land another job.
So regardless of how this season ends, United must still make it a priority to see whether they can land a top manager like Pochettino or Allegri instead of sticking it out with Solskjaer.
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