Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turn things around at Manchester United? Well, he’s got through difficult patches before, but what about bringing about more meaningful long-term change?
Solskjaer’s first job when he replaced Jose Mourinho was to improve the mood at Man Utd, and he did that by giving his players the confidence to play with a bit more freedom, with the style of football undoubtedly more entertaining under the Norwegian tactician.
Still, this is his team now, with plenty of big-name signings brought in since he took over, though so many problems remain as the pressure now ramps up on him to deliver silverware.
A big few weeks lie ahead for United now, with two Champions League ties with Atalanta coming up, as well as huge Premier League clashes against rivals Liverpool, Manchester City, and Tottenham.
Could it be time for Solskjaer to show he’s more than just a ‘PE teacher’? We certainly think he’d be in a stronger position if he showed he can mix it up a bit more with his tactics.
Let’s face it, his current system, if there even is one, doesn’t seem to be working, so we put together a new-look XI with a change in formation and some big names taken out of the team that could help turn things around at United, or at the very least, show that Solskjaer has a bit more of a coherent project that he’s working towards…
Starting in defence, we’ve changed to a back three, which is increasingly used to great success by the best teams. Chelsea first showed its benefits when they won the 2016/17 Premier League title under Antonio Conte with this formation, and again under Thomas Tuchel in their Champions League victory.
Do the Red Devils have the players to make it work? Almost certainly. In fact, Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s limitations as an attacking outlet at right-back surely mean he’d be better off playing in a back three like this, where he and Raphael Varane can work together to give Harry Maguire more protection and allow him to shine as he has in the past in this kind of system, particularly with England, where he’s often looked a far more convincing centre-back.
Luke Shaw’s attacking prowess also surely means he’s wasted as a left-back, rather than as a wing-back. Diogo Dalot is undoubtedly a bit of a weak-link here, but he was mostly exposed for his defensive frailties in the recent game against Villarreal, and he could shine in a more advanced role without as many defensive responsibilities. In the long term, however, this might be a position for MUFC to try strengthening in.
In midfield, it seems a no-brainer to build around Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese maestro has been superb since moving to Old Trafford, and he needs the freedom to operate in that number ten role, where he can provide passes for the players ahead of him, whilst also getting into dangerous goal-scoring positions himself. Behind him, it’s surely time for a radical change in midfield.
Quite why Donny van de Beek has been overlooked for so long is beyond us, but it’s not too late for Solskjaer to put things right. The Dutchman seems ideal to provide United with more of a balance in the middle of the park, as he’s perfectly capable of shielding his defence whilst also being better on the ball than someone like Fred. Scott McTominay should be a decent partner for him, providing that much-needed box-to-box energy.
There’s no room for Paul Pogba in this system, but he’s been strangely shifted out onto the left-hand side in recent times, and perhaps it’s time to stop trying to accommodate him if he’s not really first choice in his best position? Plus his contract situation is an unwanted distraction and if he won’t commit to the club, maybe it’s time to move on.
Up front, both Cristiano Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood look like they’d both benefit from being in a front two. Ronaldo can’t do it all on his own up there, and the ability of Greenwood to shift wide and run at players can create more space for his 36-year-old team-mate and allow him to get away with less running. Too often we’ve seen Greenwood play as a makeshift winger, but in the long run he’s surely going to be a striker, so why not let him play alongside one of the very best?
Jadon Sancho is another big name who doesn’t make this line up, but on current form he simply doesn’t deserve to be starting. Perhaps that will change, as the 21-year-old is undoubtedly a promising talent, but, as with Pogba, it’s no good trying to build around players who don’t quite fit and who aren’t really contributing.
Solskjaer needs to show he can make big decisions; one of those would be accepting he’s got it wrong with Van de Beek, and showing that he won’t just play big names like Pogba and Sancho based on reputation alone.