3 Points: Perspective for United ahead of tough run-in

The culmination of Manchester United’s Champions League campaign at the Nou Camp offers a fantastic chance for United fans to put some things into context.  This week’s 3 Points are my perspectives on three different elements of the club, following our defeat at Barcelona:

1) Putting our season into context

First, let’s put Barca into context: it’s hard enough to beat Barcelona in 90 minutes. That’s the team that hasn’t lost in La Liga since November. The Barca whose La Liga vanquishers, Leganes and Real Betis, would not have won had they started their respective games a goal behind, as United did. The same Barca who haven’t laid an egg at home since February 2018.  The one led by the other footballer with a bona fide claim to being the GOAT (remarkable that United faced both Ronaldo and Messi in this Champions League Campaign). United were toast in 20 minutes.

But that’s fine, because we also need to put our season into context. We were never favourites, but largely acquitted ourselves well against PSG and Barcelona. We were always unlikely candidates for the Champions League, and we can concentrate on our goal of securing Champions League football next season. United are clear outsiders, but will feel they have some control over their own fate insofar shaking off their funky form. The silver lining from today’s result is that we’re now more focused for a tricky trip to Everton, though I am still braced for dropped points at Goodison. A win would really energise the team down the stretch and give United a shot at placing in the Top 4. It’s good to have this goal to work toward.

But we fans need to have reasonable expectations for this season. We changed manager after some dreadful football and worse form, with a dressing room heaving with toxicity and disharmony. We were rudderless, following the corrosive reign of Jose Mourinho. When Ole took over, I said all I wanted to see was some good football. I got that immediately, and for a sustained period of time. NOBODY was mentioning a place in the Top 4 when he took over. It’s not fair to expect Champions League football, because Ole’s United is still lying in a bed he didn’t make. I just want us to look dangerous, and to have a proper go at securing Champions League football next year. If we don’t get it, it’s not the end of the world. We need to be realistic about our prospects of success with this incomplete squad.

2) Putting our Squad into context

Never mind the fact that there is a potentially explosive crisis brewing on the contractual front, as the form of several players in contract negotiations – Rashford, De Gea, Herrera, Mata – has fallen off a collective cliff as talks have dragged on. Never mind the fact that a Director of Football has not been appointed yet, though I will say it once again – ED WOODWARD IS NOT A FOOTBALL GUY AND CANNOT OVERSEE THIS REBUILD. Let’s focus on the players who make up the squad.

There are two main issues with the Manchester United squad. First, there isn’t enough world class talent. Consider the best XIs of the best clubs in the world.  All of them have at least six elite players; many have more. United have maybe four, and one of them is a goalkeeper. This summer, we simply have to buy two to three elite players, assuming none depart. The second problem with the squad is that there are too many squad players playing first-team minutes. There are players in the United team who have a place in the squad but whose “ability doesn’t match their responsibility.”[1] 

A successful season normal involves approximately 60 matches. Every successful team needs squad players, who will feature in 30-40 matches a season. At United, players like Smaldini, Young, Lingard, and Jones, are starting upwards of 80% of matches when fit; that number should really be closer to 50%. This problem will be partly solved by new summer signings, as well as maturing players like Diogo Dalot, Tahith Chong (never do N.S.), and Angel Gomes being able to take on more first-team responsibility. Our squad, as currently constituted, is 3rd-6th best in the league, and that is precisely the fight we find ourselves in. We need to fix this in the summer.

3) Putting Ole into context

There are people arguing today that Ole should not have been appointed. These people think Solskjaer was appointed because of his good run of form. These people are fools.

Ole did not get the job because of United’s remarkable run of form. That’s what got him the job so quickly. To be sure, Ole had to get the team playing well to be considered for the job. But if he got the job because of the team’s remarkable, but clearly unsustainable, run of form, it makes no sense appointing him early. If form is that basis for your decision, you’d be a fool to reject the larger sample size of the rest of the season. Appointing him early isn’t going to prolong the run of form. Ed? Are you there?

There is one very simple reason Ole was appointed: because he has played to the Club’s ethos in a way that has earned the trust of the fans and the board. We should all be very clear about who Solskjaer isn’t: he isn’t close to a Guardiola, Klopp, Pochettino, or Zidane. We shouldn’t expect him to be, not yet – he isn’t nearly as experienced. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has earned the trust of the Board and of the fans to take a low-risk gamble on his synergy with the club providing an extra impetus. But we, as fans, need to internalize that it isn’t a question you answer in six months. Depending on this transfer window, it could take years.  But I trust him. He feels organic. Perhaps most importantly, he feels aware, bringing back Mike Phelan and blooding youngsters in a manner that will be familiar to United faithful.  

Throughout Ole’s tenure, United fans have been playing with house money. He isn’t auditioning anymore. That’s done. We’re in it for the long haul now. We’ve invested. And while I questioned the timing of his appointment, I do not question its ultimate wisdom. Ole is my guy. Everybody knows Ole’s going to model his management after the Great Man Himself. I think we all want to see just how well he does it.

[1]           United We Stand Podcast

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