Manchester United may have got back to winning ways this weekend, but it will require more consistency for fans to be entirely won over by what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is doing at the club.
So far this season, Man Utd have been the ultimate yo-yo team, providing some thrilling victories such as their late goal to come away with a 2-1 win away to Paris Saint-Germain, whilst also thrashing RB Leipzig 5-0 in a strong start in the Champions League.
These were then followed by poor defeats at home to Arsenal and away to Istanbul Basaksehir, while no one will forget the utter humiliation of losing 6-1 at home to Tottenham earlier in the campaign.
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Remarkably, these continued dodgy displays at the back come from a team that has spent £141million on new centre-backs in recent transfer windows.
In 2016, Eric Bailly joined for £30m (fee via BBC Sport), then in 2017 it was Victor Lindelof for another £31m (fee via BBC Sport), and then the highly questionable decision to spend a record-breaking £80m on Harry Maguire in 2019 (fee via BBC Sport).
That’s a huge amount of money, with no real improvement from United at the back, while a far better defender continues to look as solid as ever for Leicester City – Jonny Evans.
It’s surreal to look back to the summer of 2015 and think that Evans was sold by United to West Brom for as little as £6m (fee via BBC Sport) – that’s a net spend of £135m on central defenders since then, and it looks increasingly like they sold the wrong player.
The Northern Ireland international later moved to Leicester, again on the cheap at just £3.5m (fee via BBC Sport), and it’s pretty baffling that United made such a glaring error with a homegrown talent – the kind of players they usually value highly.
Evans’ fine form since leaving the Red Devils has also seen him linked with Arsenal by the Daily Mirror, and with Manchester City by Sky Sports, and he’d probably be a key player for those two teams as well.
Luke Chadwick told CaughtOffside that he thinks Evans would still be an important member of the MUFC squad, though he defended him for choosing to leave when he did as he will have understandably wanted to play more.
From United’s point of view, it’s surely a big loss, though. “He was always a competent player for United and now he’d be one of the better players in the team,” Chadwick said. “Him and Maguire would be a fantastic partnership at the back. It would be harsh to say it was a mistake (for United), because at the time for Jonny it was right for him to move on to further his career.”
Pundit Graeme Souness has also previously echoed this view about a year ago, saying on Sky Sports, as quoted by the Daily Mail: “He walks into the Manchester United team for me when you look at what United have at the back. He can make passes, senses danger. He’s all round a top class centre-half for me.”
In this post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, it’s almost been one transfer blunder after another with costly errors made on the likes of Angel Di Maria and Alexis Sanchez, while talented players like Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba have also struggled to fit in.
The Evans saga, however, really is up there with the worst of United’s recent mistakes, and it’s all the more damning for them that he’s now shining for a top four rival. In fact, his strong performance at the weekend put Leicester top of the table. Not bad for a £3.5m signing.
Solskjaer isn’t the first and won’t be the last to feel he’s not had his targets delivered by Ed Woodward and co., but United also need to remember there are bargains out there, and sometimes the solution to your team’s problems is actually just under your nose.