What is holding Manchester United back? Gary Neville cites a lack of identity and style but Jamie Carragher thinks it’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
United’s 29-game unbeaten run away from home in the Premier League was brought to a crashing halt at Leicester, with the Foxes coming from behind to win 4-2 at the King Power Stadium.
Solskjaer’s side are winless in their last three league games, with pressure further growing on the manager after an expensive summer of incomings.
Neville told Monday Night Football: “There is a lot of emotion on Manchester United over the past 48 hours, and rightly so – the performances have not been right this season, nowhere near good enough for the players in that squad. That is causing massive problems for the manager at this moment in time.
“[Against Leicester] there were spaces everywhere and they were baggy in their shape, and they are a pretty awful team to watch when they are baggy. They don’t press very well, they have no intensity, their front players walk around, and they must think they are better than they are because when I watch Liverpool and Manchester City, they sprint.
“Patterns started to emerge throughout the second half where the front and back of the team became disconnected. You ended up with two teams: the front five – the egos, the great players, the world-class ones – and the back five. Manchester United ended up with a disconnected, non-compact unit which Leicester found it really comfortable to play against.
“This Manchester United team are really poor in reacting to goals. They are a little bit like babies after conceding a goal – if they score, they puff their chests out, the egos come out, and they start to push forward for another goal. The disconnected team was exacerbated by individual errors, and they ended up losing the game and rightly so… this Manchester United team play in moments, they haven’t got a style or identity, but they have brilliant players.
“What you’ve got to try and do is get into a shape of some kind, and work on that shape so you can keep a clean sheet or lose one goal while always scoring two or three. On Saturday, they did not do that – they broke rank in the second half, didn’t listen to their coach and his instructions, and they need to correct that very quickly, otherwise they will lose a lot of football matches if they carry on like that.”
Neville went on to explain how he feels the key to the job at United is being able to manage a dressing room full of big characters and big egos.
“They’ve got six grenades where the pins have been pulled out in the dressing room,” he said.
“That can work. I’ve seen Vicente del Bosque do it at Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane, where you have a collection of great players that win games in the moment. PSG are like it at the moment under Mauricio Pochettino – they aren’t really a Pochettino team. He’s got great players and big names. Ole has got a bit of that now. Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani, Paul Pogba, Harry Magure. Massive characters in the dressing room.
“Maguire is probably looking at Raphael Varane thinking if he’s the top dog any more because Varane is a Champions League winner. You’ve got the dynamic of Cavani sat on the bench after begging him to stay another year and now he’s sat on the bench with Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood all playing ahead of him.
“You’ve also got Jadon Sancho, who has been chased all over Europe for the last two years and he’s now looking like he’s in and out. You have all these issues. Ole somehow has to bring that group together and find a simple way of playing defensively where the players buy into it. And allow the talented players to win the game for him. That’s the only way he’s going to get the season back on track.
“I expect at the moment the dynamic in that changing room is still developing with the aura of Ronaldo and Fernandes throwing his hands in the air. Pogba is thinking ‘shall I leave?’ And Harry Maguire as captain trying to control this lot saying, ‘I don’t like what I’m seeing’. Ole has to solve it this week. He has to get it right.
“This lot are an odd bunch and they could come out and do Liverpool on Sunday but they’ve got to get that dynamic and spirit right. Ole has to do that.”
Carra: Man Utd need a better manager
Neville doesn’t entertain the idea of Solskjaer being the reason why United are seemingly underachieving this season – but Carragher disagreed. Despite admitting he thinks Solskjaer has – on the whole – done a good job at rebuilding United, he feels if they are to make the jump to seriously challenge Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea for the title then they need to change the manager.
He said on Monday Night Football: “What is his style? What does he do? I keep hearing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer talking about Manchester United of the past, counter-attacking, scoring great goals – it’s like a history lesson at Manchester United. He was part of that history – it was amazing. What does Solskjaer do? What’s his idea? I don’t see it in terms of a plan.
“If I go back to Jurgen Klopp’s first game, Adam Lallana comes off and falls in his arms, we know what it’s about. Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea, three at the back, we know what it’s about. Pep Guardiola’s first game? Full-backs were in midfield, you can see it, you can feel it. This Manchester United at times are pressing on their own, at times are walking about. This doesn’t get worked on the training pitch and if it is, then the players aren’t taking any notice.
“Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done a really good job as Manchester United manager. This could have gone horribly wrong for United. He came into the job with experience from Scandinavia and a year at Cardiff. I can’t judge Solskjaer against Jose Mourinho or Louis van Gaal, who did average jobs themselves. Solskjaer will not win a Premier League or a Champions League as Manchester United manager. He is not at the level as Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel or Pep Guardiola, who have got years of experience and have won major trophies.
“Ole hasn’t got that. So where he’s got them means he’s done a really good job. But this team is a good team.
“There is a feeling that if Ole wins a trophy, he should stay in a job. United are only going to win the FA Cup or Europa League – if he won one of them, United will still need to have a better manager. That’s not a criticism of Ole but they need a manager that can compete with the other managers in this league.
“He knows himself as does every Manchester United fan, that he isn’t at the same level as the other manager at the top of the Premier League.”
Manchester United face a formidable set of fixtures in October and November as they look to keep pace in the Premier League and ensure Champions League qualification, with Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and the Manchester derby looming domestically.
October 20: Atalanta (h) – Champions League, kick-off 8pm
October 24: Liverpool (h) – Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports
October 30: Tottenham (a) – Premier League, kick-off 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports
November 2: Atalanta (a) – Champions League, kick-off 8pm
November 6: Man City (h) – Premier League, kick-off 12.30pm, live on Sky Sports
November 20: Watford (a) – Premier League, kick-off 3pm
November 23: Villarreal (a) – Champions League, kick-off 5.45pm
November 28: Chelsea (a) – Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports
November 30: Arsenal (h) – Premier League, kick-off 8pm