How the mighty have fallen. Between 1993 and 2013 Manchester United were undoubtedly the dominant force in English football. During that time they won an incredible 13 Premiership titles- and pulled off the League and FA Cup double on three occasions, as well as landing a League/FA Cup/Champions League treble in 1998/9. During that period United never finished lower than third in the Premier League. They also won the League Cup three times.
But since 2013, when United’s legendary manager Alex Ferguson retired, there have been no title wins. Their finishing positions speak for themselves. 7th, 4th, 5th, 6th, 2nd, 6th.
There have been trophies, but only three significant ones. The 2015/6 FA Cup, and the League Cup and Europa League in 2017/8. For a team so used to lording it over everyone else, the last seven years for United fans have been tough to take. There could be plenty more of the same to come. They may be a short-term improvement in results, but it's doubtful if sacking Solskjaer will, on its own, lead to a return to something like their old dominance. Here's why.
Since Ferguson went, United have had four managers. David Moyes was shown the door after just one year. Dutchman Louis van Gaal survived two seasons. Jose Mourinho did win two trophies and took the club to second in his second season, but then things imploded in season three. Solskjaer steadied the ship, but yet again United haven't really kicked on. Money has been spent - particularly under Mourinho, under whom there was a net outlay of £285m, but the team still falls short.
Let's face it anyone who took over from Alex Ferguson - who, don't forget, was in the Old Trafford hot-seat for 27 years, was going to have an extremely tough assignment.
United have been here before, when another very successful long-serving manager, Sir Matt Busby retired in 1969, one year after winning the European Cup. In 25 years at the club, he won 13 trophies.
After Busby went (he did return for a short period in the early 70s) United didn't win another major trophy until 1977 (the FA Cup) and after winning the then First Division title in 1967, it was to be another 26 years before they were to be crowned Champions of England again.
The similarities with what happened then are even greater than they first appear. Closer inspection reveals that the decline of Manchester United in the 70s actually began when Busby was still the manager. In 1968/9 season, with an ageing team, they only finished 11th, a fall of nine places from the year before.
And although United did win the title by nine points in Sir Alex Ferguson's last season (2012-3) you could argue there were already signs that their period at top dogs could be coming to an end. United won 16 games that season by a single goal margin.
The thing which strikes you if you look at the stats for that 2012/3 season was that United scored 86 goals, a very healthy total. As this article by Sarah Glenton in Sports Gazette shows,
what has really gone wrong for United on the pitch since then is the "goals for" column. Defensively, United have on some occasions performed better post-2013 than they did under Ferguson. But they are nowhere near as potent upfront.
The highest they have scored since 2013 in a season is 68 goals in 2017/18. In 2015/16 they scored just 49, and only 54 a year later. If United do sack Solskjaer then it is very clear that they need a manager committed to playing attacking football.
All the managers who followed Ferguson have been quite "safety first" in their style of play and tactics. If Sir Alex has stayed on I'm sure United would have fared better, (and the team would have been more entertaining to watch), but even then they would probably have found it a real challenge to compete with Man City, and their incredibly wealthy backers, and a resurgent Liverpool, fired up by Jurgen Klopp.
Not only have City and United improved considerably in the last few years, but other teams from outside of the traditional ‘Top Four have also become extremely competitive. Although they have regressed this season, Spurs were a better team from 2014 onwards than they were for most of the Ferguson era. Leicester (surprise champions in 2015/6 and currently third), and Wolves are two more sides that have taken major leaps forward post-2013 and are a match for anyone on their day.
It’s worth remembering that in the period from 1976-1990 Liverpool dominated English football in much the same way Man Utd did from 1993-2013. But it's been thirty long years since their last title win. Barring a collapse of Devon Loch-style proportions, that will be put right this season, but it took a long time for everything to fit back into place at Anfield. Manchester United will be back, make no mistake, but the trends indicate it might not be for quite some time.
Football And Racing Tips
It's FA Cup fourth round weekend, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be hard-pressed to keep his job if Man Utd go out at third-flight Tranmere Rovers.
The Red Devils should go through, but Tranmere did beat in-form Premiership Watford in a replay the last round (having been 3-0 down in the first match), and so nothing can be taken for granted.
Other potentially tricky ties for Premiership sides are Sheffield United away at FA Cup specialists Millwall, West Ham at home to Championship leaders West Brom - now managed by ex-Hammers boss Slaven Bilic, and Leicester away at in-form Brentford - who have won their last seven home matches.
So much will depend on what teams managers will put out, so if you are planning a bet wait until you see the starting line-ups.
There's some great horse-racing action this weekend, with Cheltenham and Doncaster the main meetings.
In the SkyBet Chase (formerly known as the Great Yorkshire) at Doncaster, there could be some each-way value at the foot of the weights with 20-1 shot Monbeg River.
The eleven-year-old has only run at the track twice before: he won by 16l off a mark of 128 in December 2017, and then was second (beaten 6l) in the Sky Bet twelve months ago off a mark of 133 at odds of 25-1. He races off 128 again on Saturday. Ravenhill Road (representing the in-form Sue Smith/Danny Cook combo) and Chidswell are two others with good course form to consider.
In the 2.40 the popular Lady Buttons looks to have a solid chance of reprising her victory in the same Mares' hurdle last year.
At Cheltenham Highway One O One, second on the card last year, has been well backed for the 1.50, and appeals along with Warthog, who did us a favour when winning over course and distance in December.
Northern Beau also won at the December meeting and can go well again in the 4.10, and although Tobefair has a lot to find at the weights, he could be a bit overpriced (from an each-way perspective) at 20-1 in the Cleeve Hurdle (3.35) given the way he finishes up the Cheltenham hill.
Follow Neil Clark @NeilClark66 and @MightyMagyar
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