Inconsistent Man United continue to baffle their fans from game to game

Inconsistent Man United continue to baffle their fans from game to game

Manchester United's Paul Pogba and West Ham United's Declan Rice battle for the ball during the Premier League match at The London Stadium. Picture: PA

BEING fourth in the league provides some breathing space for a manager. 

You may not be setting the world alight, but you are still in the Champions League qualification spot. So you must be doing something right.

This is the situation for Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. United's weekend win over West Ham saw them take fourth just four points behind leaders Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. Results saw them slip back to sixth by the end of the weekend, but they do have a game in hand over everyone around them.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during the Champions League match at Red Bull Arena, Leipzig, Germany.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during the Champions League match at Red Bull Arena, Leipzig, Germany.

Sure, this will not inspire any jubilation among fans used to much bigger achievements than this, but his side is doing enough to maintain a credible presence in the top six. Progress is slow, but little steps as they say...

Then along comes a midweek Champions League result like the one against RB Leipzig and you wonder whether United are totally lost?

They went into the game knowing a point would suffice their qualification to the knockout stages. Sure, it was a tricky task against a young but talented side, third in the Bundesliga. All the more reason then, to make sure the side settled into the game without doing anything stupid early in the game.

For some reason, this logical assumption did not occur to United, who proceeded to give their German opponents a two-goal head start within the first 15-minutes. Despite technically starting with a back five, the first few minutes saw them overrun by the quick counterattacks from the Germans leaving either Harry Maguire or Luke Shaw stranded in two v one situations they had no way of dealing with. 

Alex Telles and Wan-Bissaka went out to the wings so they couldn't do much defensive work. Which would be fair enough they were tearing up the park to assist the attack or provide some cover in midfield but only Scott McTominay seemed to be the only one doing anything to stop the waves of Leipzig attacks swamping the United midfield. But he is only one man and the Germans were soon overrunning the United positions.

45 minutes had passed before the English side woke up and started to play. Indeed they were lucky only to be 2-0 at that stage as Leipzig should have put away two more in that time.

This is not a one-off event either for United. They have gone behind in four of their last five Premier League matches. And while great credit goes to them for the spirit they showed by coming back in three and winning four of them, it has to be recognised that it is never a great strategy and you will get caught out eventually, especially when you step up to the quality of opponents in the Champions League.

Manchester United’s Harry Maguire. Picture: Phil Noble/PA Wire
Manchester United’s Harry Maguire. Picture: Phil Noble/PA Wire

Then there was the third goal. Just seconds after Bruno Fernandes' free kicked had slammed off the crossbar, an innocuous half defected Leigzig cross scuttered across the United six-yard box, Maguire inexplicably was unable to reach what seemed a gettable ball, letting it run behind him to the unmarked Justin Kluivert to tap it past David De Gea who tried to stop the shot by turning his backside to the shot.

It was like a slow-motion crash where everyone could see what was coming but the participants involved could do nothing to stop it.

When Pogba came on United seemed to wake up and the Frenchman's influence saw the start of the fightback even though it is questionable whether both United goals should have stood.

The penalty being another daft VAR decision on whether it was fair for the ref to award the penalty rather than if it was a penalty in the first place. In the end, it didn't matter, the comeback came too late. The retributions now begin as United face the dreaded return of Thursday night football.

POGBA DILEMMA

Pogba is their best player so why didn't he start? It's because we still don't know if he wants to stay at Old Trafford or not. How long has this debate gone on now?

You've got to admire Paul Scholes' analysis after the game. The legendary midfielder does not sugarcoat his views when it comes to his old club and pointed out that there are three or four world-class performers in the team. Marcus Rashford, Fernandes, Pogba and Greenwood but the rest are just meh! "You'll get a few good wins but no consistency."

He was also critical of Maguire's "stiff" defending and accused De Gea of "bottling" it for the third goal for fear of getting hurt in the tackle.

But United problems are bigger than even their players' failings, who are just a symptom of the malaise within the club.

A club whose ownership is more interested in quarterly business reports than finding the right combination to win on the field. And in this, they are happy to keep Solskjaer a the wheel.

He is liked by the players and the media, he does enough to keep the finances rolling in, and is a club legend making it nearly impossible for fans to call for his head.

But is he the ruthless and skilled manager that United need to get back to the very top? Results will tell. Starting with the Manchester derby on Sunday.

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