Ole Gunnar Solskjaer likes to talk about the Manchester United DNA.
It’s a bit of a old cliche — United do not have sole copyright to comebacks and exciting football — but if Solskjaer believes it exists then now is the time to lean a little on the bravery that is supposed to be part of it.
Solskjaer, the United manager, is in a mess, a hole so big that only immediate results feel like they can save him.
If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is to go out with a fight then consideration must be made regarding the dropping of underperforming Portuguese stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes
To get some, the Norwegian may to have to change. He may have to make some big, brave calls.
What is it they say about the definition of madness? Something about doing the same thing over and over whilst expecting a different outcome.
That has been Solskjaer’s season so far. Send out roughly the same players to play the same way and hope it works, even when the signs are that it will not.
So now is time for change, time for some clear and original thought, some real coaching and some decisions that may not rest well with some players.
There is an abundance of coaches at Old Trafford but it’s tempting to wonder what they do.
Solskjaer has looked like a man without ideas and now is facing real calls to be sacked
Two of them — Mike Phelan and Michael Carrick — were first-rate midfielders but you would not know it from watching United play. United’s defending was calamitous against Liverpool but it is from the centre of the field where this red disease actually spreads.
It is a department that offers Solskjaer’s team no protection. It has all the solidity of wet cardboard.
Solskjaer has set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation for a long time. It allows him to get four of the Premier League’s most gifted attacking players on to the field. But it has stopped working.
United play Tottenham on Saturday and rather than heading to London merely hoping that Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and others can help his team out-score Spurs, Solskjaer must set up his team not to lose.
When a football team are struggling, the best route out of the dark is often found in what you do without the ball. A clean sheet would help United, for example. They have only managed one in their last 21 games.
With this in mind, can Solskjaer select an extra midfield player this weekend at the expense of one of his front four? Maybe.
To add, for example, Nemanja Matic to Sunday’s midfield pairing of Fred and Scott McTominay and ask Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood to play less expansively either side and deeper of a centre forward does not sound like the worst idea.
To do that something has to give so if you are Solskjaer who do you leave out? Ronaldo? Fernandes? Both? To some United supporters, that will sound like heresy.
But, if you are going to place more emphasis on solidity — pick a team that will not be so readily ripped open — then a centre forward such as Edinson Cavani will at least enable you to stretch play and present a target for the ball when you do get it.
The return of Edinson Cavani would help United both stretch play and aim for a big target
Dare Solskjaer really leave out Ronaldo? On recent league form he can. Ronaldo was dreadful at Leicester and not an awful lot better against Liverpool. And he would be a hell of a substitute.
On reputation it is harder. If he drops the golden child and loses at Spurs then it may well serve as his final act as a United manager.
But, if his team continue on their current trajectory then he will not survive long anyway.
Now is the time for the United manager to at least roll some dice, to throw some different cards on the table. Just, it must be stressed, for one game, just to try and break the pattern.
The really good managers are capable of selecting bespoke teams in order to produce bespoke performances. Coincidentally, Solskjaer’s predecessor at United, Jose Mourinho, was once very good at it. Solskjaer, by contrast, has become sappingly predictable and so has his team.
Solskjaer has been well backed at United and was able to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford, yet the results have been going from bad to worse this season
On Sunday, Gary Neville said on TV that defending should be part of the culture at every top club. It should be something to be proud of. Clean sheets matter.
Conceding goals hurts. Not just in matches but in training too. It is hard to imagine there are many constructive arguments at United’s training ground.
There are too many players for whom there is no jeopardy. Come the weekend, they know they are playing.
Solskjaer must think hard about changing that now. It is time to be brave, time to be selfish. It is one thing losing your job and quite another losing it while doing absolutely nothing to try and save yourself.
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