When Ole Gunnar Solskjær was appointed caretaker boss in the middle of December last year, the news was met with jubilation and the start of his career back at Old Trafford couldn’t have got off to a more exciting, or better start. His new side took on his former club, Cardiff City, with the Red Devils winning triumphantly, 5-1. Solskjær went on to win 14 of his first 19 games in charge; however, since taking the job permanently at the end of March, he’s won just five in 18.
The club’s ongoing descent over the last six-or-so seasons from Premier League title hopefuls, to scrapping for a place in the Europa League (which they also won of course, in 2017) has been painful enough for fans of the red side of Manchester to take. But coupled with the successes of their most bitter rivals in blue and a pretty bang average squad, it’s difficult to see when the tide will change.
At the time of writing, United sit in tenth, having drawn their last game 1-1 with Arsenal – their worst start in the Premier League for 30 years; while in Europe, they could only muster a narrow 1-0 victory in their opening game over Kazakhstan club, Astana. It even took a penalty shoot-out against neighbours Rochdale to progress to the Round of 16 in the League Cup. This, with a starting eleven that included the likes of Phil Jones, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba – against a club that sit just above the drop-zone, two divisions lower. In Premier League odds, the baby-faced Norwegian is among the outright favourites of managers to leave their post next.
But just last week, Solskjær asked for patience, as he’s building a new culture at the club. He told Sky Sports: “For us it’s about building a new culture, building a new team, bringing everybody together. Is it the job I expected? Yes. I never said this was going to be a quick-fix job. It’s step after step after step.”
Interestingly, comparisons could well be made between the squad that Solskjær is assembling, with the one that Jurgen Klopp inherited when he took charge of Liverpool, back in October 2015. During his first season at Anfield, Klopp could only guide them to eighth in the Premier League and in his first 17 league games in charge, collected 23 points from a possible 51. Of course, those days are forgotten, as he has since guided Liverpool to two Champions League finals, as well as a second-place finish in the Premier League last season.
United may have only won two Premier League games thus far, but despite the volumes of money spent in the transfer window, their three summer signings have all started brightly and were all nominated for the club’s Player of the Month award in August – eventually won by Daniel James. Through the additions of Harry Maguire from Leicester City (£78.3m), Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace (£49.5m) and James from Swansea (£15.3m), it’s clear that Solskjær has opted for youth over experience, but also defence instead of attack. Fans are crying out for a striker, following the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez – or at the very least, a creative attacking player. It’s an area the Norwegian will need to strength in the January window, should he last the final months of the year.
This month could prove a further test as to where United’s strengths and weaknesses lie. They face Liverpool at home, as well as trips to relegation-threatened Newcastle United and new-boys Norwich City. In the Champions League they make the tough trip to Belgrade to play Partizan; while it’s Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the League Cup, who Solskjær’s men managed to defeat on the opening day of the season in the Premier League. If results don’t go to plan, the January transfer window and newly introduced winter break won’t come soon enough.