Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: What went wrong at Man Utd?
By Simon Stone
BBC Sport

Not too long ago, it was all so different. There were much backslapping and an air of celebration when United secured Cristiano Ronaldo's return on 27 August amid strong interest from Manchester City.

Not too long ago, it was all so different. There were much backslapping and an air of celebration when United secured Cristiano Ronaldo's return on 27 August amid strong interest from Manchester City.

When the Portuguese superstar marked his second United debut with two goals in a 4-1 win over Newcastle, all seemed well. When hundreds of fans waited more than half-an-hour to hail the Portuguese superstar as he conducted interviews after that match, it seemed inconceivable that 10 weeks later, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be sacked.

But, after surviving the 5-0 home defeat by Liverpool on 24 October and the 2-0 'humiliation' by Manchester City on 6 November, Solskjaer was catapulted out of the manager's chair following Saturday's the 4-1 loss at Watford.

 

The statistics are stark. Four wins in 13 matches in all competitions since that Newcastle victory. Seven points from eight Premier League games, with United keeping one clean sheet. Nineteen goals conceded in seven games. Out of the Carabao Cup.

It would have been even worse but for an injury-time David de Gea penalty save that ensured a 2-1 Premier League win at West Ham in September, and three critical late goals from Ronaldo in the Champions League - late winners at home to Villarreal and Atalanta, and a dramatic point-saver against Gian Piero Gasperini's side in Italy.

For some, Solskjaer's exit has been a long time coming. They were never convinced the Norwegian was up to the job in the first place and have been waiting for him to fail since his appointment was made permanent in March 2019.

That judgement is harsh.

Solskjaer restored pride to a club that had turned in on itself during the last days of the Jose Mourinho era. Without question, he acted and took decisions for the benefit of Manchester United, a club seared into his heart.

 

He secured a second-place finish in the Premier League last season, which is as high as United have managed since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. After 19 games, they were top, a position they have not enjoyed at such an advanced stage of the season since Ferguson left.

Had they beaten Villarreal in the Europa League final as expected, Solskjaer would have given himself an element of protection against the problems that has engulfed him. But De Gea missed in a bizarre penalty shootout in Gdansk and, as some felt at the time, the effect of those fine margins going against the Norwegian are now being felt.

Solskjaer: The cons

That is not to say Solskjaer bears no responsibility for United's collapse.

 

It has been obvious for a long time which players he trusts and which he does not. Evidently, Donny van de Beek falls into the latter category.

It is not entirely clear what role Solskjaer played in Van de Beek's £35m arrival from Ajax in September 2020, but he never gave any particular impression he thought the Dutchman could be a significant presence at Old Trafford.

BBC Sport has been told by more than one source that Solskjaer felt there was a nervousness about Van de Beek, leading to uncertainty over whether he could flourish at United.

That view is slightly odd given nearly every match last season was played in an empty stadium. That Van de Beek came on and scored as United thrashed about looking for a way back into the Watford game undermined Solskjaer's view even more.

 

Van de Beek was among a number of United players who have been edged to the periphery this season.

Dean Henderson's hopes of challenging for the goalkeeping slot have been dashed, although, admittedly, David de Gea has been one of United's best performers.

However, with De Gea and Henderson on first-team duties, Tom Heaton has been reduced to the role of third choice, which does not seem to be the best use of the 35-year-old, who was in the England squad before he got injured two years ago.

Jesse Lingard posted a picture of himself on social media wearing a West Ham kit on Friday. This came after BBC Sport and other media outlets, learned of the collapse of contract talks with United.

 

Lingard's outstanding loan spell at West Ham in the second half of last season propelled him back into the England reckoning. He opted not to return to London Stadium on a permanent basis in the summer, partly because he understood Solskjaer would offer more opportunities, which have not arrived.


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