Reaction as United are beaten heavily at Goodison Park.
Each transitional period for United post-Ferguson, if we break them into convenient, easy to digest chunks, has featured a ritual humiliation at Goodison Park. This, the latest, featured all the worrying hallmarks of the others and little sign that progression is forthcoming.
Indeed, it may well have been the worst post-Ferguson moment as each and every issue faced by the club was exposed and presented in excruciating, minute detail. Losing heavily against Barcelona is one thing but United have been ‘Ole’d’ off the pitch by Wolves fans and Everton fans in this last few weeks.
There are few things we are learning that we didn’t already know and we are long enough into the Solskjaer era to at least form the basis of a judgement on his capability based on certain decisions he makes.
His selection for the game was concerning because he once more went with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Okay, so they were embarrassed by Messi in the week, but who hasn’t been? The difference is every forward in the league fancies their chances against this United backline.
If Solskjaer is cut some slack by the forced nature of the team because of Shaw’s suspension, the consequential question is did he do the best with what he had at his disposal, and you have to consider that the selection of Victor Lindelof at right-back does nothing for us in that area and only serves to weaken us in our most vulnerable area. Mick Phelan tweeted after the Barca game that lessons were being learned but you have to ask if they really are?
A fairer judgement will be held until next season but it is a matter of supreme concern that this very obvious problem is continuously on show. It would necessitate even a good team to plan with pragmatism so put them behind a midfield that is the most passive the club has seen since the War (this is not an over-reaction) and you have the result, performances like today, like the last few weeks.
There were hopes that Ole’s battle cry about some questionable attitudes would result in players fighting for their futures but we are all accustomed to this – their usual response. Just as concerning was the observation that once more the opponent didn’t need to be anywhere near their own best to achieve a comfortable win over United.
Much has been made of the players Ole will be planning to build around but even the best players at the club would struggle to get into a great United team; indeed, if this were a good United team, or if these players were in a side challenging for the title, huge question marks would be asked after the performances of late. The sort of goals De Gea has been conceding are much too soft. Paul Pogba was bizarrely compared to Bryan Robson before the game by Gary Neville and the less said about Anthony Martial, the better. No tears would be shed if any of these players left after this, their latest insipid offering. If the hope was that the quality in attack would compensate for the porous defending then it was not founded in realism.
If one or two players go missing, you can normally count on effort, or another player putting in a shift. Much criticism can be given, and is, about the quality of United’s defenders. But all we are seeing, as frustrating as it is, is the mistakes you expect from players of that standard and the position in the league absolutely accurately reflects the position you would expect from a team who field the defenders United do.
It is a much bigger problem for Solskjaer trying to decide which of these forwards are worth persisting with and indulging. The problem comes in the form of Martial’s form, one player rewarded with a long contract who has promptly played his poorest football for the club yet, with today looking like his most uninterested shift yet.
It is concerning that Ole is making some of the same errors consistently but as I said earlier, a fairer judgement will be made after a summer. United will never be error free, no team is, but these critical mistakes are too glaring to ignore. If they aren’t fixed before the summer then it will be Europa League football and a much tougher job to attract the players of the quality you would expect United need.
As we’ve seen, that is the prevailing problem. It’s all well and good signing a player like Paul Pogba and Angel Di Maria and United have done that but there are more important things United need. How many players do you expect will be suitably humiliated by the scale of the defeat in order for them to respond in the right way? There are none.
For this writer there is no doubt that United’s major issues have stemmed from the playing staff over the last 4 or 5 years. It was obvious, however, how damaging Jose Mourinho’s reign was becoming and how poisonous it had already become. Mourinho being himself created a divide which still exists as some supporters are insistent that some of these players are better than the current management allows, just as they were under the last manager and the one before him.
Today was arguably the lowest United have been since Sir Alex retired and maybe that is partly to do with a spectacular error in judgment to hire Solskjaer. He has earned the benefit of the doubt considering he did have the team playing well and getting good results. That spell did not last very long, but Solskjaer still earned respect with his tactical decisions that led to wins at Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Paris.
That the players have reverted to type is something that he cannot be totally absolved of but has to at least be held in perspective. There are players with lofty potential and even with high quality but nowhere near enough with the requisite qualities to improve this United team.
Still, you can’t credit Solskjaer for the start he made without being fair in criticism against him when results are poor (I believe I have been, above), and with the team in relegation form, it is only right for his lack of top-level experience to be highlighted. You can support the manager and hope he turns it around whilst maintaining the concern that the club made the wrong call (how many times I’ve been down this alley).
There is weight to the argument because of how many times the club have got it wrong but that same argument can be presented and projected against Jose Mourinho’s assertion about last season’s second place being his best achievement. That statement was bluster on Mourinho’s behalf but how much this squad are doing to prove it right.
There had to be balance, surely, between the protection of the weak defence and the ability for United’s talented forwards to express themselves. Given the freedom, and indeed the encouragement, to do the latter on the behest of their newest coach, they have instead displayed exactly the same lack of urgency and creativity as they did when they were supposedly stifled. Regardless of the manager, this has to reflect badly on the players who have finally run out of scapegoats.