IAN LADYMAN: Manchester United’s stars MUST work harder or it will cost Ole Gunnar Solskjaer his job. There are fundamental flaws in the dressing room and the club is in drastic need of a mentality shift
- Manchester United were thrashed 6-1 by Tottenham at Old Trafford on Sunday
- The devastating defeat was one of the worst results in the history of the club
- United sit 16th in the Premier League with just three points from three games
- Players like Harry Maguire and Paul Pogba can’t keep going through long lulls
It is a little over 21 years now since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored four times in 11 minutes as Manchester United beat Nottingham Forest 8-1. Unfortunately for the current United manager, his results tend to come in bursts too — for good and for bad.
Solskjaer’s United are a team who tend to run either very hot or very cold — it’s not a good sign.
After he took over from Jose Mourinho — architect of Solskjaer’s misery at Old Trafford on Sunday — as caretaker in late 2018, a run of 14 wins in 17 games effectively secured the Norwegian the job.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under huge pressure after his side were thrashed by Tottenham
United promptly lost their next game rather unjustly at Arsenal but then finished that season by winning just two of their last 12, losing eight.
Last season — Solskjaer’s first full one — worked out in reverse. United beat Chelsea 4-0 on opening day and then won only two of their next 11.
Into the new year and buoyed by the signing of Bruno Fernandes and the emergence of Mason Greenwood, Solskjaer’s side recovered to win 17 and lose only two of their final 25 games.
So this is where the occasional hope comes from. United can, and sometimes do, play like a very good football side.
Under Solskjaer, they can suddenly hit their straps, get on a roll of confidence and sweep teams aside for periods of weeks and more.
Equally, the team can be astonishingly dismal. One defeat is not immediately forgotten about or learned from. Too often one quickly tends to lead to another and then misery sets in.
Players’ shoulders slump, eyes focus on the ground and Solskjaer starts to look less like the homecoming hero and more like the little boy lost he first appeared to be when he walked through the gates of the Cliff back in 1996.
All this tells us quite a lot about the modern Manchester United and their manager.
It suggests that too many players are mentally unable to deal with the natural up and down rhythms of a long season and that when the dark days arrive, their manager does not have the experience of man-management — the know-how to help them through.
United are capable of playing good football but they can also be astonishingly dismal
In an interview at the weekend, the Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku — resurgent at Inter Milan — claimed that the English were wrong to say he was lazy during his time at Old Trafford.
He is entitled to his claim, yet those who know will say that his levels of application at United were not always the best.
So why would a player try less hard at one club than at another? Is it because of the differences in team culture? Is it because of the manager? Is it simply because he can?
Certainly at United it is not unusual to see players go through extended lulls and then emerge to find new peaks. Less common is consistency of performance over a season. David de Gea, Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Nemanja Matic and Luke Shaw all fall into this category and that is too many.
David de Gea is one of a number of players who is guilty of going through extended lulls
Great teams have stellar days but relentless predictability and reliability is what underpins them. Last season, former Liverpool manager Roy Evans — an inhabitant of the Anfield boot room for most of his professional life — spoke of the need for what he called ‘seven-out-of-10 players’. He referenced Jordan Henderson and James Milner.
Where are United’s seven-out-of-10 players? Had a few of them been around on Sunday, they might still have lost to Tottenham but they would not have been embarrassed 6-1.
Clips from the Spurs mauling were informative. Pogba’s clatter into Ben Davies at the end looked for all the world like a belated attempt to get his shorts dirty. Shaw’s ugly hack at Lucas Moura seemed born of an apparent lack of interest in chasing him.
At really big clubs, dressing rooms do not tolerate things like this. Lessons are quickly taught and learned. At United, who do we imagine dishes out the rollickings? Maguire, the captain? Solskjaer?
Midfielder Paul Pogba is another player who’s performances are anything but consistent
It all appears unlikely at a club that seems in need of the kind of shift in mentality that Mikel Arteta is bringing about at Arsenal.
Solskjaer has been in his role for almost two years, Arteta at his less than one.
At Old Trafford, signing marquee names like Edinson Cavani will not do anything to address the fundamental flaws in the dressing room.
The players need to work harder and think smarter. If they don’t, it will eventually cost their young manager his job.
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