The historic Old Trafford witnessed many pieces of history in the making this past weekend. While the key and headline-worthy ones remained Manchester United suffering their fourth-biggest defeat in the Premier League history and Mohamed Salah becoming the highest scoring African in the English top flight, the game-changing one was still quite different. It was the first time Sir Alex Ferguson walked out from a United game before it was over.
Well, it sums up the huge crisis that the most successful club in English football is undergoing lately. There is no doubt that the players are underperforming, leading to cruel results. But the problem has been far bigger, in the managerial duties that the club has been suffering at, since the end of the previous season.
The end of the 2020–21 season saw Chief Executive Ed Woodward step down, which now puts the club under less pair of safe hands to fall into. There was no Director of Football appointed, for which the supporters are crying for, day in day out since the past few seasons. But that didn’t stop the club from making unbelievably huge signings in the transfer market this summer, exceeding many of their previous summer spending records.
But it all comes down to the performances on the pitch. With the arrival of some of the best players in the world and the results still not going their way, everything boils down to one man — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The manager has been backed by the United faithful since he guided Manchester United to a splendid victory in Paris to eliminate PSG during his probation period.
In his first full season, he managed to take United to a second-place finish, which was a great feat considering that the club hadn’t invested a lot of funds in that very season. But this season was supposed to be the breakthrough period. Certainly, that is far from happening.
In today’s article, we take a look at everything that has gone wrong for the Norwegian player legend — turned coach at the Club, United’s choices in the coming few days and how the prospective new coaches could tactically change this Red Devils’ side to bring the glory days back to Old Trafford.
Ole’s at the wheel! — Not anymore…
The biggest criticism that Solskjaer has taken during his tenure at Manchester United is his inexperience and his lack of tactical identity. It seems pretty strange looking at Manchester United playing without a consistent style, for the past two years now. In the era of Pep Guardiola’s possession-based attacking football, Jurgen Klopp’s Gegenpress and Chelsea’s Tuchelball, Manchester United have looked lost on the pitch every now and then.
The earliest scars for the present situation were seen when the Mancurians lost 6–1 at home to Tottenham last season. The game was so brutal on the on-field personnel and scathing as they literally felt helpless with no approach for minimizing the risk from the continuous Spurs’ attacks. That’s where a lot of United faithful turned their backs on this management.
Ironically, the next Premier League game for Manchester United stands against Tottenham away from home. This could be the final nail in the coffin if there is another straightforward loss for Solskjaer in this game.
Talking about what’s going wrong for the ex-Cardiff City manager in the dugout, the main problem seems to be the defence. Despite signing one of the most successful defenders in world football, Raphael Varane, the club sits in a position where they have conceded 11 goals in their last 3 games alone — a shambolic poster of their unreally poor defending.
The attacking segment has been guilty of too many options to choose from and lack of team chemistry. After signing both Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo his summer plus the club boasting the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, it seems a hoax when teenage sensation Mason Greenwood is your best player on the offense.
Let’s look at some numbers which conclude too that it’s time for Ole to go. The Red Devils rank as the 8th worst side in the league when it comes to goals conceded and 6th weakest when it comes to the number of clean sheets this season. They have also not looked quite aggressive out of possession as they are the side with the lowest number of successful tackles in the Premier League this season.
What closes the argument here is that the squad that has been assembled at Old Trafford this season might just be the best set of individual talents under one roof since 2008 when the club won their last Champions League trophy. In fact, the last time they won the league under Sir Alex Ferguson, they boasted a team which would be valued at less than 1/5th of the current ranks. A seventh place after nine games played with this kind of team seems totally unacceptable in the red half of Manchester.
The Trifecta linked with the United job
Not even an hour later of the 5–0 defeat to Liverpool at home, the bells had begun to ring fiercely. Every top manager in the world currently, out of job of course, was linked with Manchester United in place of Solskjaer. But it seems that three names seem to lead the rest, as reported by the English media.
Antonio Conte is no stranger to the tricks and treats of the Premier League. The Italian Godfather, as he is fondly known as, came to England and conquered it within 12 months as he handed Chelsea their sixth Premier League title in 2017. Conte was the manager to revolutionize the defensive back-three formation with the use of high-flying wing-backs, the impact of which can be seen across English football even today.
What the Italian coach did different though, was to prove that winning the Premier League title with immediate effect is possible. Conte later went back to Italy and broke his former club Juventus’ reign too as he won the Scudetto with Inter Milan. The gaffer remains currently unemployed looking for a new project after Inter Milan had to let go of him due to financial restraints.
The ex-Chelsea manager seems to be the favourite to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer either in the coming days or at the end of the current season.
Other names which have popped up are Zinedine Zidane and Brendan Rodgers, both of whom have different circumstances though. Zidane comes up in the list as the extravagant three-time successive Champions League winner and La Liga Champion with Real Madrid as a coach, while being currently out of job. On the other hand, Brendan Rodgers continues to impress as he cements Leicester City’s position as one of the top-four sides in England, week in week out.
Zidane’s appointment would somewhat make a few critics a bit unhappier. The French manager has been under immense scrutiny of winning games based solely on individual talent and not a perfect tactical system, which could be carried on for years and instilled into the camp. A bit like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s current reign.
Brendan Rodgers could ideally be the best candidate if Antonio Conte’s rumoured incoming falls out. The Northern Irish coach has time and again proven that he can make wonders with even average or under-rated squads. With the kind of talent United possesses, Rodgers could probably win a treble with his genius tactics!
How could Antonio Conte change Manchester United?
The arrival of the Godfather at Old Trafford could change the magnitude of the Premier League altogether. A league with Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte all fighting for one prize could just be the biggest coaching war that the footballing history has ever witnessed.
Talking about Conte’s tactics, we could see Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane getting additional help in central defence as Conte brings with him a system of his famous three-at-the-back. The red half of Manchester could also witness a big winter signing incoming for a third partner to Maguire and Varane.
Wing-backs are the most important aspect in Conte’s system. Left-back Luke Shaw who has been experiencing a lot of involvement in the offensive aspect of his team since the Euros with England, could be the biggest beneficiary of Conte’s arrival as he could be deployed in a left wing-back role for the Mancurians. On the other hand, the right wing-back role could see a bit of a fight between Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot. While Wan-Bissaka is the current first team choice, Dalot offers more as a wing-back for sure.
The placement of five defensive players means that there is less space for wingers in the first team, totally putting the careers of some big names, in danger. Starting with Jadon Sancho, whose arrival this season has not gone down very well, as the Englishman continues to be sub-par for his employers. Under Conte, his career might go downhill as there will not be a lot of scope for out-and-out wingers under the Italian.
The most interesting case shall be of Cristiano Ronaldo though. Inter’s famous Scudetto victory last season was a personal loss for Ronaldo as he failed to spear Juventus to another Serie A title. On this, Antonio Conte was very outspoken about how the Portuguese was a liability for the Old Lady and held them back. If Conte packs his bags and arrives at Old Trafford, he would be face to face with the legend he criticized as being a liability, less than 12 months ago.
Wherever this saga ends up, the crisis at Manchester United is very real. It could be settled anytime while reading this article, or even this weekend, or at the end of the season. But it’s certain that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s days are numbered.