It was a pitiful performance but a predictable one too. Manchester United’s 2-0 defeat by Watford was just the latest in a poor run of results against the Premier League’s weaker teams. United have now failed to beat nine of the division’s bottom 12 this season. The time has come for the club to make a change in the dugout.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has now been in charge at Old Trafford for a year. It is true that 12 months is not enough time for a manager to oversee a comprehensive turnaround in fortunes, particularly at a club with as much dysfunction as United.
Nevertheless, it has become increasingly clear that Solskjaer is out of his depth at the highest level. The Norwegian cannot be blamed for all of Manchester United’s problems, and he has done some good since replacing Jose Mourinho at the helm. Yet with Mauricio Pochettino out of work, it would be negligent of the United board not to act now.
United have tried several different approaches since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. First came David Moyes, Ferguson’s hand-picked successor who struggled to adapt to the increased pressure and scrutiny that comes with the role at Old Trafford.
Next up was Louis van Gaal, an experienced coach who had enjoyed success at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. The Dutchman arrived in Manchester with a well-defined philosophy, but he failed to translate that into on-field success.
And then came Mourinho. The Portuguese started well, winning the League Cup and Europa League in his first season, but his Manchester United side could not keep up with Manchester City and Liverpool at the top of the division. By the time of his departure last December, United needed to be reunified.
Solskjaer, a club legend from his playing days, helped in that regard. He has shown tactical nous at times, most notably in the recent win against City. He instigated a much-needed change of approach in the transfer market last summer, targeting younger, hungrier players who are up for the fight.
The issue with Solskjaer is that he does not have the proven experience and quality of the elite managers he is looking to compete with. His only previous success came with Molde in the Norwegian top flight. In his last stint in the Premier League, he was relegated with Cardiff.
Contrast that record with Pochettino’s. Granted, the Argentinian did not win a trophy during his five-and-a-half years at Tottenham, but he transformed the club from top to bottom. Spurs reached a Champions League final and are now widely regarded as one of Europe’s biggest clubs, hence their ability to attract Mourinho.
Manchester United’s problems run deep. The team needs more creativity in midfield, more solidity at the back, and more variety upfront. Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, continues to make questionable decisions off the pitch.
There is no doubt that United have gone backwards in the last six years, even if their status as one of the world’s biggest and richest clubs remains largely unaffected. It would be wrong, though, for the 20-time English champions to think that everything will simply fall into place some time soon. That is not how football works.
Liverpool, Manchester United’s arch-rivals, were once the country’s dominant team, but they have gone 30 years without a league title. It is not inconceivable that United could face a similarly lengthy wait for their 21st championship crown.
That is why Woodward must act decisively. Solskjaer will always be a hero at United, and he deserves credit for brightening the mood at Old Trafford after Mourinho’s tempestuous tenure. But if Manchester United want to compete at the top of the Premier League once again, they must make a move for Pochettino.