Thursday, September 23

Solskjær haunted by the ghost of Pochettino in the middle of a high tension event at Old Trafford | David Hytner | Football

For Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the cycle is wearily familiar. The Manchester United manager can win and sometimes win well, and usually it’s up to Bruno Fernandes or possibly Marcus Rashford. But when he loses, it is his head on the chopping block or, more precisely, the list of trending topics on social networks.

#OleOut is usually accompanied by some sort of reference to Mauricio Pochettino, the unemployed former Tottenham manager, who has been designated by a section of supporters as Solskjær’s pending successor. It’s been like that for most of the year: Ole at the wheel; Pochettino looks aggressively in his mirrors.

Pochettino has had to wait, but is prepared to do so for a top-notch job, which he believes he deserves after his job at Spurs. He’s not necessarily United, he’s of interest to Real Madrid too, but he knows that select power brokers at Old Trafford wanted him in 2016 when they looked to replace Louis van Gaal. And that was before he did the best he could. In the end, United played more confident and chose a proven winner in José Mourinho.

Pochettino is in no rush. The Spurs are still paying him, firing him in November of last year after his first protracted recession. He could be back in the game by now because he’s had proposals, but he can afford to be picky.

Pochettino’s achievements at Spurs – rebuilding the club and placing them in the top four in the Premier League on a relatively small budget – have not diminished over time. If anything, they have been improved, romanticized, and their availability has been a major problem for Solskjær.

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Any United coach is bound to win every week. It’s not realistic, but elite football doesn’t care about those details. However, Solskjær must also overcome the hypothetical notion of how Pochettino would fare at Old Trafford, continuing in the home derby with Manchester City on Saturday. How can someone beat a ghost?

Solskjær was everyone’s favorite interim manager, and his position record after replacing Mourinho was near perfect. He was only erased by the league’s defeat at Arsenal and the elimination of the FA Cup quarter-finals at Wolves, the two games before his confirmation as permanent manager in March 2019. But even then, skeptics remain. they asked if there should have been a broader change. sample size to judge its suitability. Why not wait until the end of the season?

Solskjær’s United failed between the game against Arsenal and then, and if the club had waited, the decision might not have been so clear. Since then the background noise around him has been relentlessly loud, except for the period following the restart of the game after the lockout last season, when Solskjær got everyone in shape and his team played good football with him. front foot on the way to third place.

It’s good to see United when they are breaking the rhythm, and Fernandes brings variation, making things happen between the lines. Where Solskjær has been successful has been in creating an emotion almost absent during the tenures of David Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho. His team lacked a lot of fitness in the first two weeks of this season, but once they’ve built it it seems they can always create chances, aside from the sad 1-0 home loss to Arsenal.

Since the October international break, they have taken 16 points out of 21 available. They are five out of first place with a game in hand. Beat City and the table could look more optimistic.

Edinson Cavani's goals at Southampton have helped Manchester United score 16 points out of 21 possible since the international break in October.

Edinson Cavani’s goals at Southampton have helped Manchester United score 16 points out of 21 possible since the international break in October. Photograph: Robin Jones / Getty Images

But nobody seems to be speaking this way. Instead, Solskjær is just a bad result of a relentless spotlight and calls to Pochettino. It doesn’t matter that the board says they are solidly behind him. Or even that there is such a will among the hardliners for Solskjær to succeed. The noise is constant and Solskjær cannot find the mute button.

It has come to be felt that victories are simply a means of chasing the wolf out of the door, of staying alive, rather than building blocks, the means of building momentum. And when that happens to any manager, there can be no medium to long term picture.

The reasons for the pessimism stem from the chaotic nature of many of United’s games. Fans like consistency, control, and clarity of vision. With Solskjær, it has generally felt improvised, reactive. When United is not fighting back, it can be difficult to discern any sophistication in their patterns. Also, successfully chasing matches like the Solskjær team has done on several occasions can be exciting, but it is not sustainable.

It’s hard to predict which United will show up, even from one half to the next, and it’s like there’s been a role reversal in Manchester. These days City are stable from top to bottom, with a clear identity on the field.

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Solskjær’s tightrope act has been heavy on the extremes, with the best victories elevated by drama and improbability; the spirit of never dying reflects the club’s traditions and delights the fan base. But the lows have been almost comical and defensive disasters, particularly this season, most recently against RB Leipzig in United’s Champions League outing on Tuesday, have led to legitimate questions about Solskjær’s tactical acumen. When the same bad things keep happening – slow starts, disorganization – credit in the bank runs out.

How good is this United team? It certainly contains imbalances and it is not Solskjær’s fault that the club did not sign a central midfielder and winger during the most recent transfer window. You need to win the league or at least seriously challenge for it, but is that realistic when you compare United man to man to Liverpool or City?

So to the derby. Solskjær has won three of his five as a coach against City and it wouldn’t be a surprising surprise if he did win again. Lose, and he knows the drill.

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