It was clear something needed to change, and, credit where credit’s due, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struck gold with his formation change in Manchester United’s 3-0 win over Tottenham.
The Red Devils boss has often been criticised for lacking a Plan B, and arguably even much of a Plan A, with his harshest critics branding him little more than a PE teacher who throws an expensive bunch of superstars together and hopes for the best.
For perhaps the first time in his Man Utd reign, however, Solskjaer showed some tactical flexibility and brought about the changes that were needed as his team ran out deserving winners against Spurs yesterday.
We saw United change to using three at the back, and veteran strike duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani up front – a bold move when Solskjaer’s squad’s biggest strength is arguably its wide players. Still, the Norwegian tactician was content to leave four of these players – Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood and Jesse Lingard – on the bench, while Anthony Martial didn’t make the squad at all.
If Solskjaer sticks with this kind of system for the long run, it undoubtedly shows he can put a system in place for his players to adapt to, rather than the other way round, but it creates a new problem for this summer’s marquee signing Jadon Sancho.
The England international is well known to have been tracked by MUFC for some time, and Solskjaer finally got his man this summer.
Now, however, there are perhaps already signs that Sancho doesn’t really fit in to what Solskjaer is building. Either that, or the manager has been forced to rethink precisely what it is he is building due to the total lack of impact from the former Borussia Dortmund man.
We’ve touched on Sancho’s mentality before, questioning if the lack of pressure at a stepping-stone club like Dortmund can prepare players for the huge expectations placed upon them at Old Trafford, and CaughtOffside understands that there have been growing concerns from within the club over the 21-year-old’s slightly lacklustre efforts in training.
It only looks worse for Sancho if United have now found a system without wide players that works better for them, but the trouble might not end there for Solskjaer either.
Make no mistake about it: results are important in the modern game, where managers are given less time than ever, but club chiefs who splash the cash on players won’t be best pleased if their manager doesn’t agree with their investments. Fans, too, like to see the exciting new additions get time on the pitch. Even if Solskjaer gets a run of wins going with his new-look line up, the questions will immediately come back to Sancho once there’s another drop-off in form.
Donny van de Beek was not as big a name or as expensive a purchase as Sancho, but his absence has continued to come back to haunt Solskjaer, so expect double the outrage if Sancho goes down a similar path.
Life is rarely simple for the manager of Manchester United, and few will have faced quite as much scrutiny as Solskjaer is now. The coming weeks will tell us a lot about his mental toughness and suitability for this extremely challenging job.