Disorganized, naïve, embarrassing. Manchester United’s performance against Liverpool last Sunday can be described in many ways, but the face of Sir Alex Ferguson up in the stands perhaps epitomized it best. With puffed-out cheeks and a sullen expression, the former United boss looked devoid of all energy and hope – not unlike the home team.
Liverpool dominated the game right from the off, with Mohamed Salah sliding in Naby Keïta for an easy finish within just five minutes. United’s calamitous defending continued and in the 13th minute, a terrible mistake from Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, alongside Scott McTominay failing to track his man, allowed Trent Alexander-Arnold to cross to Diogo Jota, who stretched and tap in a second.
Mo Salah, who has been in scintillating form, registering a combined 16 G/A in nine Premier League games this season, terrorized Maguire and Shaw down the right-hand side, capping off the half with two tidy goals from close range.
There was no respite for United in the second half. Salah bagged himself a hat-trick in the 50th minute after a sublime ball from Jordan Henderson, and ten minutes later half-time substitute Paul Pogba got himself sent off for a reckless challenge on Keïta. The end result: a humiliating 5-0 home defeat against their biggest rivals, which throws into doubt the capability of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
United’s recent form hasn’t been good, looking particularly frail in defensive areas, conceding eleven goals in their last three games.
This isn’t the first time Man-United has suffered a blip under Solskjær.
Around this time last year, they were thrashed 6-1 by Spurs, also at home. This time, however, is different. In previous seasons Ole has consistently used the phrase ‘progress’ to point out the improvements he’s made, whilst also implying that the team still needs time to develop.
Now, after United’s summer transfer window, spending £126m on top talents such as Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane, and of course, Cristiano Ronaldo, the time for ‘progress’ has truly run out. Solskjær needs to deliver silverware this season, and right now, it doesn’t appear that he has what it takes to do that.
The club has confirmed that Ole will remain in charge for the time being, but he is undoubtedly on thin ice. The next fixtures will be crucial for his survival, and they don’t make for easy reading.
United will face Spurs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this weekend, followed by a trip to Atalanta in the Champions League, rounding it off with the big Manchester derby next Saturday. These are games which Ole needs to win, and perhaps more importantly, games where he needs to prove he can set up his team to play well.
Football is a fickle game; a few good results in the next fixtures could completely change the perception around his United side. There are currently eight points between Manchester United and the top of the Premier League, a significant gap but not insurmountable.
Neighbours Manchester City proved this last season. After sitting in eleventh at the end of November, seven points behind leaders Tottenham, they found their form and went on to lift the trophy comfortably.
The real challenge for Ole is trying to bridge the gap in quality and cohesion between United and Jurgen Klopp’s men. He needs to finally find an identity for his side, and bring the talent at his disposal together to play as one unit. With the pressure mounting, we will soon know if he is up to the task.
Image courtesy of HonorTheKing via WikiMedia Commons