Solskjær’s Manchester United: Understanding the manager’s ambitions

Written by Siddesh K Iyer

*Written before the first game of the season vs Chelsea at Old Trafford

” It just goes from bad to worse for Man United….”

“The summer transfer hasn’t been great, the defence has improved but nothing more…”

That’s the general notion with regards to United as the new season is set to kick-off at Old Trafford in just under 3 hours.  A club legend at the helm, a young crop of players coming through, not much hope for the club amongst the experts. It all sounds too familiar, doesn’t it?

“You can’t win anything with kids…” – Alan Hansen on Sir Alex’s Man Utd in August 1995

We all know what happened in 1995 after Alan’s comments on the BBC.

I’m not harbouring comparisons between Sir Alex and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer by any means, but the clarity and vision that Ole has for his project at the club is certainly distinct and has a lot of groundwork behind it.  The managerial line up at Old Trafford is an all-encompassing one: Experience, belief, talent and perseverance and can help the current crop of players realize their true potential. Although weaker on paper as compared to Man City or Liverpool, the current set of players possess enough talent and skills to hurt any opponent on their day if they’re set up with the right tactics and put in a significant level of effort. Let’s now analyze the Manchester United squad department by department:

Goalkeepers:

David De Gea is set to be the undisputed Numero Uno and potentially United’s captain for most of the games on the pitch. One of the best shot-stoppers in the world, he’s expected to hit the highest levels with a very strong defence lining up in front of him. Sergio Romero is a more than able back-up option with a primary role to play, perhaps in the  FA Cup and League Cup. Lee Grant and Joel Pereira complete the goalkeeping department with Dean Henderson on loan at Sheffield United this season.

Defenders:

Manchester United’s strongest department on paper. Quite a statement to make. The transition from a very weak defence last season to a rock-solid backline over the course of the summer transfer window has been magnificent.  The right-back area which has been a concern over several seasons has been addressed by drafting in one of the best right-backs in the league and arguably in the world in Aaron Wan Bissaka. United’s very own “Spiderman” is a very tidy customer across the entire right flank. Searing pace to cover ground and a very able tackler and crosser of the ball, he is set to bolster United’s play in the right flank in both attack and defence. Another pertinent addition is the one of Harry Maguire, a record £80m move from Leicester City for the English centre-half has improved the Man United defence big time. A potent force in the air, a tough tackler and extremely comfortable in playing out with the ball, Harry Maguire certainly has the potential to improve United’s overall play, not only in defence and from set-pieces but also in the quick transition of play from defence to attack with his eye for accurate through balls to United’s very pacey forward line. Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw should ideally be the remaining two players who complete United’s strongest back four. Axel Tuanzebe seems to be the second choice centre half with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Eric Bailly possibly playing catch-up. Diogo Dalot and club captain Ashley Young complete the reinforcement options at the full-back positions.

Midfield:

Certainly, United’s primary area of concern where they seem to very light in terms of personnel. Paul Pogba looks set to remain at Man United for this season and fully committed to his pivotal role at the heart of the United midfield. Pogba is the undisputed world-class option in midfield: Pace, Power and a belter of a shot at goal, the Frenchman can rip any opposition to shreds on his day. Scott McTominay is quickly reaching the stage where he can stake his claim on the central midfield position next to Paul Pogba. The Scottish international, who has risen through the academy ranks at United is very comfortable on the ball and has the talent, passion and desire to keep going box to box for 90 mins. Exactly what fans and the United coaching staff demand. Beyond these two, Fred is expected to step up big time. The Brazilian certainly has the talent to play box to box and can contribute very effectively in breaking up play and moving forward in attack, the flashes of which we witnessed last season. Nemanja Matic is the most experienced of United’s midfield options but performances on the pitch have not exactly been up to the mark in recent times. Andreas Pereira, Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes make up the remaining options for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Attack:

Romelu Lukaku sold to Inter Milan for a whopping £75m. United had to take a tough call and they took it, and it certainly seems to the right one considering all the nitty-gritty involved in the deal. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial (reinstated as AM9) are the primary options for United in the centre forward role. Blistering pace, deadly finishing and insane dribbling skills outline the main skill-sets for both these players. The only missing element from elevating them to the world-class level is that little bit of consistency. Once they can bring that consistency in their game, they’ll be scoring goals week in week out and that’ll go a long way in establishing Ole’s fluid attacking system at United. Out wide, Marcus Rashford is expected to cement his place in the LW role with frequent interchanges with Anthony Martial in the CF position. The RW is expected to rotate between new signing Daniel James who looks extremely talented from pre-season and 17-year old academy sensation Mason Greenwood who offers a whole lot cutting onto his left from the right-wing. In terms of the No.10 position, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata seem to be the favourites to take that spot with Solskjaer having the option to play Pogba in that role, by starting Fred/Matic alongside McTominay in the two-man base of United’s midfield.

All in all, despite the overall melancholic mood amongst the Man United faithful surrounding the summer business at Old Trafford, there’s a lot to look forward to this season. If the current crop of players can play with the United swagger, realize their true potential and give it their all on the pitch, week in week out, then this team can achieve a whole lot this season.

As I bring this article to a close, just ahead of United’s first game of the season, all I’d want to tell the Man United faithful around the world is to believe in the manager and the players. It’s time to back our club legend to get United to the level they should be at. We may be down and discounted, but we can achieve a whole lot with some dedicated efforts from the players and the coaching staff and relentless support from all across the world.

What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author

Siddesh Iyer
A die hard Man United fan for over a decade now. It's been a journey of thrills and spills, lots of highs and a few lows. A part of AOF for over a year now, I specialize in opinion pieces, FPL and match previews and interviews of some well known names in the footballing world ( Interview of John Dykes on AOF).