For the second game running, Manchester United dropped points to a promoted team. Last week’s mediocre draw at Sheffield United, was followed up by another insipid 2-2 draw against Aston Villa at Old Trafford. The draw left them ninth in the table with18 points from their opening 14 league games.
To put this in perspective, United are closer to the relegation zone than the top four. They are only two and four points ahead of crisis-hit West Ham and Everton, making it is their worst start to a league campaign in over 30 years.
The stats make grim reading for the Red Devils. In their last 18 league games, they’ve won just four and Ole Gunnar Solkjaer’s win percentage is just 27.3%. Who is to blame for this dismal run of form? The Norwegian needs morale-boosting wins as we head for the festive period where fixtures come in thick and fast. They face Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday and Manchester City three days later. Two wins is obviously impossible but if they do get that, it can buy the manager a little more time but two losses can make United’s season much worse.
The performance at Bramall Lane last week was miserable. Against Villa, United were second-best to everything. No United midfielder could stop Villa captain Jack Grealish who kept pulling the strings throughout. Andreas Pereira was woeful bar the cross for Marcus Rashford’s equaliser. Anthony Martial looked weary and his movement was non-existent.
Daniel James was the only one who tried to make something happen. Two inviting crosses from the Welshman went begging in Villa’s 18-yard box. Fred was average making unimaginative and unproductive passes. There was no performance of note considering the entire starting line-up were excused from making the long trip to Kazakhstan in the Europa League.
The directness and counter-attacking football we saw earlier in Solakjaer’s reign has dissipated. Now, the play looks lackadaisical, unadventurous and lacks any form of structure or plan. The back three at Sheffield was swiftly abandoned after it became self-defeating.
When Tyron Mings equalised for the visitors in the 66th minute, United’s first substitution came in the 79th minute. Luke Shaw came on to replace Brandon Williams. Mason Greenwood later replaced Martial eight minutes from time. These changes show Ole is not reactive enough in situations where the team is chasing a win.
On Wednesday, they will be facing a rejuvenated Spurs side who are coached by Solskjaer’s predecessor and battle-hardened Premier League veteran Jose Mourinho. They cannot afford to drop points again, for Solskjaer at least. A defeat against Mourinho would severely damage Solskjaer’s standing with the board and fans.
After the frustrating draw against Villa, Solkjaer said that league position is not a concern. He also added, “I think there’s loads of evidence these boys are closer to winning games than losing games.” These kinds of comments demonstrate how expectations have fallen at the ‘biggest club in the world’. The former striker’s post-match remarks have always been filled with aplomb and positivity regardless of the result or performance. Although making bullish comments might go a long way in motivating players, it sometimes masks the real problem.
The United squad is not good enough for top four, let alone the league title. He can point to a weaker squad and injuries especially to Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba, with the former becoming a vital part of his team. That doesn’t mean that Solskjaer is not to blame to the quandary they find themselves in at the moment. United invested heavily in Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, but the defence looks disorganized and lacking in control.
Things are going to get worse for United and with Mauricio Pochettino on the sidelines waiting after being sacked by Spurs, Solslkjaer’s time at the Old Trafford dugout might be numbered. He said that the rebuild of the team will take a few transfer windows. The question that still lingers is, will he still be in charge to oversee the ‘plan’?