The stat about this being “Manchester United’s worst start to a season” seems to have cropped up at about this point in each of the last few seasons.
But we are all still surprised when we’re told that this is their worst start to a campaign in 30 years, and their worst-ever in the Premier League era.
The 1-1 draw at home against Arsenal on Monday showcased just how far this team has to go to become genuine top four contenders, let alone title contenders, once again. Yes, they have been hit by injuries to key players such as Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Paul Pogba early in the season, but that doesn’t excuse the basic mistakes they continue to make and the general lack of quality on show, especially against Arsenal.
If you’re Tottenham, Chelsea or even West Ham and Leicester, you’d fancy your chances of finishing above United this season.
The Red Devils have been a ship drifting through the ocean without a clear plan or direction for over six years. And now United have essential been taking on water and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been handed one leaky old sieve to try and keep them afloat.
They spent over $190 million this summer on three new exciting players — Harry Maguire, Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have all made a big difference — but that investment probably needed to be doubled as five or six key new signings were needed.
Speaking to Sky Sports on Monday Night Football, former United captain and legend Roy Keane was asked if Solskjaer should remain in charge.
“100 per cent. They’ve given him the job and the contract, so support him and let him get on with it,” Keane said. “Give him a couple of transfer windows. Are there more tough days ahead? You can bet your life there is. But they have to persevere.”
United have improved defensively, despite errors costing them dear, but going forward they haven’t scored more than once since the opening day of the season. The high-pressing style has yet to develop and there is no clear plan with this United side, as even their counter-attacking style hasn’t developed.
With their finances at an all-time high, Ed Woodward will argue he’s doing his job. But is he?
As our analyst Robbie Mustoe clearly points out, they’ve spent nearly $1 billion since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and now Solskjaer is saying this is a rebuilding process. He is right, it is.
But how has it taken six years and an obscene amount of money being spent to get to this point?
- There has been no clear direction or plan with player recruitment
- No cohesion in terms of managerial appointments
- A clear playing style hasn’t been selected
- The structure at the top of the club hasn’t changed to fall in line with the modern game
- Woodward is too involved in key player recruitment deals
Solskjaer and his players can only do so much. The squad isn’t good enough and needs plenty of new additions to shine.
He is trying to solve the issues left behind by David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, while also bringing through youngsters and creating a new identity. All while being told a top four finish is the minimum requirement.
Solskjaer’s coaching resume is a limited one and he now seems to be treading water, along with his players, after just two wins from their opening seven games. There are calls for patience and Solskjaer will probably get a full season in charge to prove his worth. But will United be any further along when May rolls around?
When we assess the overall quality of their squad, their limitations with forward players and a manager who is in way over his head, we shouldn’t be surprised by this poor start to the season.
But we are because this is Manchester United. A club steeped in success with Sir Alex, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and every other club legend in-between giving their opinions on what is going on.
But United struggling is the new norm and unless something drastic changes in terms of a new technical director being in charge or even more money being pumped into the playing squad, things aren’t going to change anytime soon.