Many journalists would refrain from mentioning Soccerbase, for fear that the industry are keeping the website as some kind of secret. It is their Bible to immediately check results, appearances and upcoming fixtures. But it also had a handy tool that allows the user to view a team’s form.
The streaks of WWW or LLL in green or grey simply show how well a side is firing at any given time. And during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign as Manchester United manager, the lists have either been feast or famine, lurching towards a run of wins or a series of poor results.
The narrative that Solskjaer is a ‘streaky’ manager has existed from the very first moment of his United tenure. It is not a myth. He won his first eight games in charge after replacing Jose Mourinho, losing just one in his first 17 in all competitions — and even that one didn’t matter as it was the 2-0 home defeat to PSG, which United overturned in the second leg.
It was then a defeat by Arsenal that prompted a shift in the tone around Solskjaer’s United, a game that they somehow lost 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium, which precipitated a dreadful run of two wins in 12 matches, the nadir of which was a 4-0 shellacking by Everton.
Last season was a similar story to 2018/19, when United won just two of their opening nine league games and then proceeded to go unbeaten from January 22nd until the end of the campaign.
This season has showed all the highs and lows in microcosm, a 6-1 defeat to Tottenham one week, a 5-0 triumph over Champions League semi-finalists RB Leipzig the next. It is all hugely frustrating for United fans to see their team prove so unreliable from one performance to the next.
It is ironic now that games against Arsenal and Everton, two of Solskjaer’s bogey teams, will expose whether the Norwegian has addressed that major concern around his management.
Can he command consistency from his players? Can he fire United towards the top of an increasingly open Premier League?
“I’m surprised it’s 100 games, it’s gone really quickly even though a lot has happened,” said Solskjaer when reminded in his latest press conference how far he’s come as United boss. “So let’s hope I can celebrate No.100 with a good performance and a good result. I’ve enjoyed it so far.”
Perhaps Solskjaer would enjoy being United manager even more if it was it a bit more boring.
Sir Alex Ferguson got to the stage as United boss where he was never truly surprised by his team. Bar the 6-1 defeat to Manchester City in 2011, he always got what he expected. Solskjaer is working towards doing the same, though his own 6-1 loss was an eye-opener as it was for Fergie.
“I think any result as brutal as a 6-1 would have to get a response and, of course, it has been dealt with internally,” he added.
“We’ve tweaked a couple of things, got players fit and I think the manner of the defeat wasn’t something we should ever have to be confronted with again.”
Solskjaer is right to point towards fitness levels and the unique circumstances in which this season started for United, but that is no excuse. His entire reign has been plagued by inconsistent performances, by individual errors that have cost points and by occasions when United simply haven’t turned up.
It has happened far too often to be dismissed as an anomaly, but the end of last season suggested some sustainable progress is now being made. Key transfers have happened, such as Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes. Solskjaer talks regularly about an improvement in his squad’s depth.
But the proof will be in the pudding. And if Solskjaer is to reach 200 games in charge of United, a feat that hasn’t been achieved by any of Ferguson’s successors, results will have to remain consistent. More Ws in that column in Soccerbase will be the arbiter of Solskjaer’s success, as he marks a century at Old Trafford this weekend.