“It’s just awful. Look at them. They’re the most despondent group of people. As a manager, you want to like your team. I look at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, I can’t imagine he’s down there thinking he likes watching this lot – I don’t.”
Gary Neville’s words whilst commentating on the 1-1 draw against Huddersfield Town yesterday summed up what every United fan was thinking during the game.
The drop-off in performances in the past couple of months has been extremely alarming, and with a win vital to keep their Champions League hopes alive, they struggled to muster much against a Terriers team who had managed just 14 points all season.
Huddersfield’s equalising goal was an amateurish one to concede, a long kick from Jonas Lossl that bypassed everyone, and made its way to the feet of Isaac Mbenza.
The Belgian, who had not scored in 22 previous games for the Terriers, slotted home past David De Gea, leaving Solskjaer ashen-faced and a group of United players bewildered by a loss of form that has cost them a top-four finish.
Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal have all faltered in recent weeks, allowing United a perfect opportunity to regain their place in Europe’s top competition, but just two wins and eight goals since March 10th has obliterated those hopes.
This team finished on 81 points and second behind City last season. This group of players beat Spurs away in the league, and triumphed on the road against Arsenal and Chelsea in the FA Cup, and won against in PSG on a famous night in Paris.
So where has that form gone? It seems this group of players is capable of flashes of inspiration but doesn’t have the quality and will to sustain itself over an entire season.
Solskjaer has already said that some players have played their last game for the club, and there are many supporters who feel it is long overdue. More spending will be required to rebuild an already expensively assembled team.
The key difference this time, though, will hopefully be in long-term planning. So many signings have been secured in recent years to fill holes and gaps in the squad, but there has been no overriding strategy.
Solskjaer and United have to go back to first principles. What style of play are you going to play? What system(s) will be employed? Then, and only then, should targets be identified.
It seems so simple but since the departure of Sir Alex, a series of managers have created a Frankenstein-like squad, not built from one vision but many different ones. The only way forward is to start from scratch. It looks like a long way back to the summit of the Premier League table.