Football Features

Why Solskjaer’s pre-Watford actions look very unfortunate after latest Man Utd defeat

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:35, 20 November 2021

10-man Manchester United fell to a 4-1 defeat away to Watford, meaning Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have now lost five of their last seven in the Premier League.

The Red Devils went in at half-time 2-0 down after one of the most miserable showings you could possibly imagine. Even David de Gea saving two penalties (well, one penalty taken twice) couldn’t lift them and they were down and out with Joshua King and Ismaila Sarr doing the damage for the Hornets.

But then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought on Donny van de Beek at half-time, and the game changed (he also brought Anthony Martial on for Marcus Rashford but that just made the team worse and Rashford had been United’s best player in the first-half so unless he was injured that sub makes absolutely zero sense).

Van de Beek gave United what they had been missing all during the first-half (and the whole season since that first international break, really) some combination play at the base of midfield, someone besides Bruno Fernandes to advance the ball, and a bit of goal threat.

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Van de Beek pulled a goal back for the Red Devils with a neat header and created two great chances for Cristiano Ronaldo only for the much-heralded goalscoring god to completely fluff his lines, even as his assist for Van de Beek should have lifted his spirits.

But then Harry Maguire picked up two yellow cards in seven minutes and got sent off. Then all the momentum United were building dissipated into the Vicarage Road air. Watford began repulsing United attacks with greater ease and, worse, counter-attacking more.

David de Gea was suddenly back in action making saves, and then Watford hammered home two more goals through Joao Pedro and Emmanuel Denis to turn an embarrassing but salvagable defeat (especially given Van de Beek’s display) into a humiliating experience.

The loss was so bad that when Solskjaer went over to the fans to applaud and apologise, they booed him loudly and specifically. The one thing Solskjaer always had was the United fans, especially those that travel to away games. They have always been vocal in their support of their manager, but not so today. Bruno Fernandes tried to step in and insist the failure was collective, but the fans just booed him then.

In a way, you can see why the fans have finally lost their patience with Solskjaer. After the awful form leading up to the international break where they rescued a draw with Atalanta and then got absolutely schooled by Manchester City (not forgetting the awful 0-5 defeat to Liverpool a month ago) Solskjaer made some baffling decisions.

With the international break affording those not called up time to train, Solskjaer instead went on holiday back to Norway to spend time with his family. But not before insisting thatI am sure you will see a reaction,” from United.

“This poor run has put us under pressure,” he added. “But pressure should be a joy, something that makes us a better team and perform at the best level.” And, well, it doesn’t seem like any of that happened and the players only lifted their game when Donny van de Beek came on. And who could be surprised with their manager absconding rather than working on tactical blueprints or new systems of play?

But the most embarrassing error Solskjaer made was publically backing his captain. After Roy Keane had savaged Maguire for what seemed like every weekend for a month, Solskjaer said “we’re all very, very happy with him and we back him. He’s such a tough professional and he’s going to prove his critics wrong.” Backing his player is good but he didn’t have to say that last part, opening himself up to more criticism.

“The so-called experts have their opinions and that’s their job, but it’s not something we need to worry about,” before finally concluding with the incredibly unfortunate: “as a true example of a Manchester United player, Harry is always there for his team.”

Oh dear.

Awful football is sadly not new for Manchester United this season, but Solskjaer making gaffes in the press is (he’s usually very good with a mic in front of him). Worse, his decision-making seems erratic and he appears to have lost the confidence of the fans. In all honesty, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have lost it all. The players won’t openly blame him, elite athletes usually look inward anyway, but they don’t look like a team fighting tooth & nail for their coach.

Ole’s at the wheel, but is anyone even on the bus with him anymore?


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