The squad Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has assembled is the best Manchester United have boasted since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
But, what remains lacking – compared to the likes of Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool – is top-level experience in the dugout.
Despite ‘the Solskjaer project’ being for the long term at Old Trafford, this season can be considered make-or-break for the Norwegian given those very players at his disposal.
In the underwhelming loss against Young Boys, in the opening match of the new Champions League campaign, Solskjaer’s hand was forced in the first half after Aaron Wan-Bissaka was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge.
The United boss quickly sacrificed Jadon Sancho for Diogo Dalot to bolster the back four, but it was decisions in the second half which not only cost United but raised questions about Solskjaer’s tactical nous.
Solskjaer opted to change his defence to a back five, by bringing on Raphael Varane, with Fred fighting fires just in front. Off went Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes, as Nemanja Matic gave Fred a helping hand and Jesse Lingard was the attacking focus.
Lingard made the critical mistake that led to the winning goal for Young Boys, but remains a player who can still offer a lot to United – though being thrown in as a no9 – a position from memory he has not previously played – is not the answer.
Despite United being a man down for the majority of the game, the gulf in class between the two sides leaves no excuse for the poor result in Switzerland. Solskjaer finally decided to bring on a forward in Anthony Martial, but gave him just one minute of the 90 to make an impact.
The United boss had already brought Varane on at half-time to ensure the defensive work, so the decision to take off the two players who combined for United’s goal is somewhat confusing. The substitutes were hesitant and invited unwelcomed pressure which ultimately proved costly.
The best part of Solskjaer’s tactics as United manager has been playing on the counter-attack in devastating fashion. Wan-Bissaka’s red card was a spanner in the works but Young Boys’ subsequent game plan would have played into United’s hands.
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However the questionable substitutes left no possibility to counter but instead invited more pressure from Young Boys, whose manager David Wagner saw his own approach vindicated.
In a season that is vital for Solskjaer in terms of winning silverware, his tactical naivety was laid bare.
United come against Villarreal in the next round of Champions League fixtures with it already looking like a must-win for Solskjaer. Wan-Bissaka will, unfortunately, miss out on a rematch of the 2021 Europa League final due to suspension.
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