Solskjaer, it's time to be ruthless and drop the nice guy act... or it might be time to drop you
It’s time to face the truth. Manchester United are now a mid-table club - like Liverpool was before Jurgen Klopp set foot on Merseyside. We are in a worse shape than the likes of newly-promoted Sheffield United, Wolves, and Leicester City. Even Arsenal, whose defence is about as secure as a torrent stream from Kyrgyzstan, are ahead of us.
Yes, I’m aware that the Red Devils are a team in transition - the stench of Jose Mourinho still lingers - and injuries haven’t helped matters. As much as it pains me to say this, Paul Pogba is still the club’s most talented player. And Man Utd have undoubtedly been handicapped by his injury.
Not having Pogba available is one thing, but losing Scott McTominay - who arguably has been one of our best players so far this season (indeed, the bar isn’t very high this season) - to an ankle problem last month really puts the brakes on our progress as a team. After all, having your first-choice midfielders out injured will affect even the best team in the world.
But to me, there is a bigger problem here, and that is manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s failure to properly adapt to his team’s injury crisis.
How else can you explain his persistence in choosing Andreas Pereira to pair with Fred in the middle of the park against Aston Villa on Monday (SGT), even after their horrible display as a partnership against Sheffield United the week before? Is it any wonder then that we failed to beat both Sheffield (3-3) and Villa (2-2)?
Man Utd might have gotten away with playing Pereira and Fred together if Sir Alex Ferguson - the footballing equivalent of the most powerful villain of all-time, Darth Vader, in that both were powerful, resourceful, and hated by non-supporters - was still in charge. After all, Ferguson once played a central midfield pairing of Darron Gibson and John O’Shea against Arsenal (back when they were a decent football team), and still managed to get a win.
However, Solskjaer, who has made no secret of his desire to emulate his former master (in perhaps the same way Kylo Ren wants to be like Vader), clearly hasn’t mastered the power of the dark side, as evidenced by how he failed to get the partnership to work against Sheffield and Villa.
And if he doesn’t have the power to get that partnership working, then he should just stop using Pereira with Fred together in midfield. It’s that simple.
I can perhaps close one eye to the Sheffield result, as their manager Chris Wilder has assembled a highly functional team who are considered contenders for a spot in the top six this season.
But to draw with Villa? That’s unacceptable. After all, Villa have been struggling in the EPL, and are currently near the relegation zone. And the fact that Man Utd made Jack Grealish - who spent the previous season in the Championship - look like a world-class player rings plenty of alarm bells for me.
Just take a look at Villa’s first goal. First, Grealish was given far too much time and space to bring down Anwar El Ghazi’s cross comfortably. He then drove past Pereira far too easily before curling an unstoppable shot into the top corner. Anyone could have mistaken that opening goal as one scored by a Man Utd player because of its quality.
Let’s face it: while Grealish is by no means the best in the business, he would still be able to walk into the Man Utd first-team right now, and probably at the expense of Pereira.
But instead of calling Pereira out and making him accountable for his poor performance, Solskjaer decided to defend him. He even praised Pereira for “improving all the time” and tried to justify the 23-year-old’s substandard display by saying that the Brazilian - who is more familiar playing either as an attacking midfielder, or on the wings - had to “cover the role” of a centre-midfielder, due to injuries.
I wish I had Solskjaer as my platoon commander in NS back in the day – he would have turned my basic military training into a holiday camp.
I do hope, however, that Solskjaer is just playing the nice guy card in front of the press, and that he brought out the hairdryer for Pereira once the team returned to Carrington. The only positive I can take out from Pereira’s abject displays thus far is that it’ll hopefully convince Ed Woodward that the squad desperately needs reinforcements.
I also hope that for Solskjaer’s sake, and for the mental health of all Man Utd fans, he doesn’t play the same midfield pairing on Thursday morning (SGT) against Tottenham Hotspur. We’d be torn to shreds completely by Jose Mourinho, who loves to prove his critics wrong. Given that he was unceremoniously booted out by Woodward, I’m sure the Portuguese is looking forward to this opportunity to take revenge on his former employers. And Mourinho getting his team fired up for a grudge match is as certain as death, taxes, and a functional ERP gantry.
Also, consider this: In matches against Man Utd, Mourinho has lost only thrice, winning nine times and drawing the other eight. With the problems Man Utd are facing right now, I’m sure Mourinho is looking forward to the game and rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect of humiliating the Old Trafford outfit.
Nonetheless, Man Utd can still get a result against Mourinho and Spurs, but only if Solskjaer disbands the Pereira-Fred partnership. My advice to him would be to give young James Garner a chance in the centre of midfield instead.
After all, having Pereira in the centre of the pitch guarantees that Man Utd will lose out in midfield, so why not take a gamble on Garner, who has shown signs of maturity and intelligence? Solskjaer himself once compared the 18-year-old prospect to the great Michael Carrick, while the only thing I’ve heard people compare Pereira to is something that would make your grandparents blush.
Ferguson never shied away from throwing youngsters into the deep end. Remember the Class of 92? Or the stroke of genius that was putting the then 17-year-old Federico Macheda in the first-team, allowing the youngster to play a significant role in the club’s EPL title win in 2009?
Ferguson also never hesitated to drop underperforming players no matter how talented or popular they were. Remember how he dropped David De Gea in the 2011/2012 season, or the many times he benched David Beckham because he wasn’t happy with his behaviour?
If Solskjaer is serious about bringing Man Utd back to their glory days, then it’s time to drop the nice guy image. Be ruthless. Wield the axe. There’s no need to win every game, but we need to see some progress made for the rest of the season. Solskjaer’s paltry win rate at Man Utd, which currently stands at just 27.3 per cent, needs to be improved, and fast.
Otherwise, any remnants of the sunshine that the Norwegian once brought will turn into dark clouds. And mentions of Solskjaer will bring up the memory of the worst Man Utd side in EPL history, rather than his last-minute Champions League winner at the Nou Camp.
So act now, Solskjaer, or your status as an Old Trafford legend may be lost forever.