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After Manchester United’s Loss to Aston Villa, Will Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Make it Through November?

© AP Photo / Oli ScarffManchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the 6-1 defeat to Spurs
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the 6-1 defeat to Spurs - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.09.2021
Manchester United’s stunning loss to Aston Villa over the weekend cost them the chance to go top of the table. While a late penalty miss by Bruno Fernandes has captured the headlines, the work of United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, needs to be the real story.
As Bruno Fernandes readied himself to take a 93rd-minute penalty, Aston Villa clung to a 1-0 lead. Since the Portuguese playmaker’s arrival in January of 2020, he has been Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s main man from the spot and has rewarded his faith by converting 21 of 22 penalty attempts across all competitions. Fernandes approached the ball at a brisk pace, struck it with power, and provided a lucky fan with a souvenir to bring his penalty record to 21 for 23.
The missed penalty cost United a chance to secure a point and stay level with Liverpool atop of the Premier League. However, the game never should have come down to a late penalty. Aston Villa is a good team, but, at home, it should be an easy three points for United. The club has spent heavily to bring in world-class players and the talent is there for a title charge. At this point, United’s inability to breakthrough comes down to one man: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Ever since Solskjaer was appointed United’s manager, there has been a never-ending tug-of-war over his job security. United will look dreadful for a spell and then rattle off a few impressive performances in a row to calm everything down. Solksjaer’s ability to come back from the ledge has earned him plaudits in some circles, but it’s simply wishful thinking. Great managers don’t have to save their job because great managers get results. Simply put, the mere fact that Solksjaer has had to come back from the brink at all is an indictment of his ability.
The Aston Villa game is a perfect example of the flaws with Solksjaer’s United tenure. The most important indicator of an effective offensive identity is the generation of big chances. These aren’t shots from outside the box or shots with a wall of defenders in its path, these are shots that you or I pretend that we can finish with regularity. United had 58% of the possession, took 27 shots, and generated zero big chances. United, under Solksjaer, has consistently struggled to create big chances when they dominate possession and are faced with an organized low block.
Solksjaer’s team selection against Villa shows his utter lack of tactical understanding. His front-four of Ronaldo, Pogba, Fernandes and Greenwood is immensely talented, but all are at their best in the middle of the pitch. What he failed to do, was field a lineup that could stretch Villa’s defense horizontally to open up gaps for his talented attackers to do what they’re best at.
Solksjaer attempted to cram his best attackers into one side without taking into account the environments they need to thrive is further evidence of his incompetence. His team has Ronaldo, perhaps the deadliest aerial attacker in the world, and he opted for a lineup that was going to struggle to create chances with crosses from wide areas. This rendered Ronaldo a no-show, and left United to take poor shot after poor shot.
The underlying metrics also point to a side in need of a change at manager. Through six games, United has scored 13 goals and conceded four. This is a solid return, but expected goals paint a different picture. They’ve generated 9.9 expected goals, and allowed 6.7 expected goals against, and this has been against a relatively poor slate of opponents. Over this stretch, United has faced teams who have managed an average of 6.16 points over six games. That point total would have a team sitting between 13th and 14th place and is a 39 point pace.
Solksjaer has routinely been able to save his job with a string of performances, but the next six weeks will only see the opposition increase in ferocity. From September 29th to November 6th, United faces a daunting slate of games. Starting on September 29th, United face Villarreal, Everton, Leicester City, Atalanta, Liverpool, Tottenham, Atalanta again, and finally Manchester City on November 6th.
If United doesn’t improve their performances, there’s a real chance that by the first week of November, they’ll be out of the Premier League title race and on the brink of elimination from the Champions League. Knowing Solksjaer, he’ll do just enough to keep his job and United relevant, without ever really competing for the things that matter at a club like Manchester United.
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