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Solskjaer: Man United players need ‘reality check’

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The honeymoon period for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is definitely over at Manchester United.

After losing five of their last seven games in all competitions, the Red Devils are out of Europe, the FA Cup and now facing a tough task to finish in the top four of the Premier League. And the two games they won over their last seven were far from impressive displays against Watford and West Ham at home.

[ MORE: Who/where should United buy? ]

Speaking ahead of United’s game at Everton on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Solskjaer believes some of his players need a reality check in order to save their season.

“I’ve learnt a lot about them over the months I’ve been here,” Solskjaer explained. “Most of them have really impressed me in their attitude. Of course there are some who need to get a reality check on where they’re at. But most of them know they can improve if they keep working as they do.”

Solskjaer was asked about which players in particular need to have a long hard look in the mirror, and although he didn’t name names, he did mention having a chat with Anthony Martial to try and help the Frenchman regain his best form.

Things were going so well for Solskjaer pretty much up until he was handed the United job on a permanent basis with 14 from his first 17 games in charge. You have to wonder if some of the players have taken their foot off the accelerator now the Norwegian coach has been handed the keys on a long-term basis.

Even if human nature kicked in and they relaxed a little, in reality they all know they can’t let their levels drop as it’s clear Solskjaer is planning yet another overhaul of this hodgepodge of a United squad in the offseason.

Asked about transfers this summer, Solskjaer wanted to calm everyone down and let them know he is in it for the long haul.

“We know there is a job to be done, there is no quick fix. It’s not like we can buy seven players and suddenly we are in the right shape. We are where we are and you have to take it step by step,” Solskjaer said. “Of course there will be signings made in the summer. I know there has been loads of criticism. I don’t know if all these critics know what is happening. We have got scouts scouring the planet for good footballers. We’ll sign players that we think are the right fit personality wise, quality wise, price wise, and can have longevity here at this club. I’m confident we are doing what we can to get the right players in.”

United need to strengthen at right back and central defense, while central midfield is also another area they need to beef up with plenty of outgoings expected.

In a strange way, this poor run to end the season will have focused Solskjaer and United’s board to try and reshape this squad rather than paper over the cracks. If they kept edging games and winning it would have brought false hope for the 2019-20 campaign. Now, everyone knows that big changes are needed, and a new direction in terms of player recruitment and a consistent playing style.

Can Solskjaer do what David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho couldn’t?

How ‘ruthless’ should Solskjaer be at Man United?

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said he is going to be “ruthless” when it comes to ins and outs at Manchester United this summer.

But how ruthless does he have to be?

After a narrow, and undeserved, win against West Ham United on Saturday, Solskjaer admitted that the Hammers got away with one and it once again showed just how much work he has to do at Old Trafford to turn the Red Devils into a genuine force once again.

Here’s a reminder of what United’s new permanent head coach had to say last Friday about potential departures and arrivals this summer.

“It’s going to be survival of the fittest or survival of the best,” Solskjaer said. “That’s how ruthless we have to be.  We need players here who are going to be able to take us forward. That means culture in the dressing room, what we do every single day here to make us challenge again… Liverpool and City are too far head at the moment for what we like. We played against a Barcelona team that sets the standard in European football. We’re under no illusion it’s going to be hard work and there will be some tough decisions made by me, Mick [Phelan] and the club.”

Solskjaer’s task has become a lot tougher now his interim tag has been removed, with the Norwegian coach losing four of his last six games in all competitions and United struggling to make the top four and looking like they will crash out of the UEFA Champions League at Barcelona on Tuesday.

But at least he accepts he must be ruthless, as a whole host of players look set to move on this summer.

Antonio Valencia is leaving at the end of his contract, while Ander Herrera also looks set to leave for PSG and Juan Mata appears to be heading out of the door too. Then there is Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo who both seem set to leave, while Alexis Sanchez and United will both want to move on from a nightmare 18-month spell.

So that’s six first team players potentially on the way out, but only one or two are genuine starters. A bigger overhaul is needed. Here’s a look at where United need to strengthen over the summer, as they also need to sort out David De Gea‘s contract situation very quickly or run the risk of losing him too.


Man United lineup for the 2019-20 season

—– De Gea —–

—- New RB —- New CB —- Lindelof —- Shaw —-

—- New DM —- New DM —- 

—- New AM —- Pogba —- Martial —-

—– Rashford —–


Now, Diogo Dalot can replace Ashley Young as the long-term right back, while Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have been handed new deals at center back, and Eric Bailly is around too, but their limitations have been made clear over the years. A new RB and CB are a must. In central midfield the likes of Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic have all had their ups and downs and that is the main area where United need to strengthen. Going forward, they are pretty set, especially with the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez in reserve. But the main thing here is clear: have a clear-out of squad players this summer and focus on bringing in 3-4 star players.

Which players should be the top targets for United? Solskjaer should aim for young, hungry players who can be at United together for a decade, while some experienced center backs are key. Bur remember: Solskjaer has been keen to promote youngsters from United’s academy whenever he can, so that may also be the route he goes down to freshen things up and Ed Woodward and United’s hierarchy would probably be fine with that given how much money Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have spent over the past five years.

Here’s a look at the players who should be their top priorities:

Di Maria: My only problem at Manchester United was Van Gaal

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First of all today is Angel Di Maria’s 31st birthday. Happy birthday, fella.

The Argentine is probably feeling pretty good after his latest trip around the Sun, especially given its most recent moment was Paris Saint-Germain’s 2-0 defeat of former club Manchester United in the first leg of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16.

[ MORE: Man Utd paid a lot to fire Mourinho ]

Di Maria was in the headlines after the game because an Old Trafford attendee tossed a bottle at him, part of what’s prompted a UEFA investigation into both sets of fans.

Di Maria, however, insists he has no problems with United or its fans, saying his poor memories of Old Trafford rest only with manager Louis Van Gaal.

“I’ve said it in the past and I reiterate it, I never spoke badly of the people here and of this club,” Di Maria said. “These are things that happen and people took it badly. I only had problems with the coach here.”

The numbers say that Di Maria wasn’t all that bad at Old Trafford; He just didn’t quite live up to his standards (He also had fewer matches than any time in his career because United was neither in the Champions nor Europa League.

Here are Di Maria’s matches, goals, and assists since he turned 21 and broke out with Benfica. While the numbers don’t tell the whole story of any seasons, they are a guiding light and also show why he’s considered a star everywhere outside of England.

There’s little doubt that Manchester United and the Premier League are a significant challenge compared to the Portuguese and French leagues, so perhaps his numbers should speak for themselves anyway.

To boot:

Benfica
2009-10 — 45 matches, 10 goals, 19 assists
Real Madrid
2010-11 — 53 matches, 9 goals, 26 assists
2011-12 — 32 matches, 7 goals, 17 assists
2012-13 — 52 matches, 9 goals, 17 assists
2013-14 — 52 matches, 11 goals, 25 assists
Manchester United
2014-15 — 32 matches, 4 goals, 12 assists
Paris Saint-Germain
2015-16 — 47 matches, 15 goals, 25 assists
2016-17 — 43 matches, 14 goals, 15 assists
2017-18 — 45 matches, 21 goals, 12 assists
2018-19 — 32 matches, 10 goals, 11 assists

Why Solskjaer getting the Man United job makes sense

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Is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now the favorite to land the Manchester United job on a permanent basis?

That is the question circling the soccer world Monday morning, as a huge 1-0 victory at Tottenham saw the Norwegian coach became the first-ever United manager to win their first six games on the trot. Of course, David De Gea‘s brilliance was the main reason United beat Spurs, but it was still a huge moment as Solskjaer’s made a huge statement in his biggest test yet as a manager.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ] 

Solskjaer’s caretaker tag will see him in charge of United at least until the end of the 2018-19 campaign, and because he’s technically on loan from Norwegian top-flight club Molde this is a bit complicated.

There’s no doubt the calls for him to get the job are growing after beating Mauricio Pochettino Spurs, even though it is way too early to evaluate how he can progress this United team long-term.

But it makes sense on many levels.

[ MORE: Solskjaer, Pochettino respond to United links ]

He is getting the best out of the players at his disposal. The fans adore him and that will buy him time to turn things around. His connection with the club as a former legendary striker instantly gains him respect and leverage behind-the-scenes at Old Trafford. His tactical ability, along with assistant coaches Mike Phelan and Michael Carrick, was tested at Spurs and his first half plan was magnificent.

When you think about it, hiring Solskjaer to a long-term deal at United does make a lot of sense. He isn’t a player who has just retired and been thrown in at the deep end. He has grafted with United’s reserve teams, then at Molde, then had a tough spell at Cardiff City to toughen him up and is back at Molde doing well in Norway before this incredible opportunity arose.

For United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward Ole would be a much cheaper option instead of paying Spurs compensation for Pochettino, and then paying the Argentine coach huge wages.

But United owe it to their fans, to their players and Solskjaer to take their time and wait until the end of the season.

If Solskjaer has United in the top four, progressing deep in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds and the FA Cup, then he has to be the favorite to land this job.

United have tried everything since Sir Alex Ferguson left. The pragmatic approach in David Moyes. The two coaching behemoths of Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. None of them worked out.

Solskjaer is someone who has been handed a chance to impress and even though Pochettino should still be the leading candidate due to the way he transforms the entire philosophy of clubs on and off the pitch, the current man in charge of United has had the perfect start to life in the dugout at Old Trafford.

Sometimes the best solution is the simplest choice to make, and Solskjaer’s case as the best man for the job is growing week by week.

Why Pochettino should leave Spurs, go to Man United

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This seems like the debate we are going to be having often between now and the summer: should Mauricio Pochettino stay or go?

Sorry to be the Grinch on Christmas Eve, Spurs fans, but all the signs are pointing towards Pochettino leaving Tottenham this summer.

Pochettino only signed a new contract with Spurs in the summer to commit himself to the north London club as they’re finally set to move into their new stadium in the next few months. But that doesn’t mean their period of austerity is over, but it certainly signals a new era Spurs want Pochettino to lead them into. It will not be as simple as that.

Yet with both Manchester United and Real Madrid said to favor him as their next permanent manager, the bidding war for Pochettino has likely already begun behind closed doors and Daniel Levy will not be having a peaceful festive period.

Does Pochettino stay at Spurs and finish his project with Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and the fine squad he has assembled and continue to grind every ounce of effort and talent out of them?

Or does he head to one of the biggest clubs on the planet in Man United where he will get the chance to truly redesign the way they play and what goes on behind-the-scenes to suit him best?

This may be one of the toughest decisions any manager has ever had to make, as the potential Spurs have is clear. If Poch goes, it is likely Kane, Alli and Co. follow him out of the door and the entire project will need to start again. His stock has never been higher and Pochettino may never be able to better what he’s doing at Spurs right now. They have hit their ceiling.

Pochettino has worked wonders over the past four years with them, turning young talent into world-class players and after their 6-2 shellacking of Everton, he has Spurs six points off the top of the PL table, in the UEFA Champions League last 16 and League Cup semifinals. All of that while not signing a single player over the summer and having to deal with the issues surrounding the stadium move and hanging out at Wembley a little longer.

The only reason Poch wouldn’t head to United is if he won either the PL or Champions League trophy at Spurs. How could he leave then? His players put on a show at Everton and are perhaps fighting not only for their own futures but also for that of their club. They want to show their boss they can reach another level and they know Pochettino is that important to Tottenham’s trajectory in the coming years.

But if he heads to United, he will be given large amounts of cash to spend on new players, something he has never had at Southampton or Tottenham in the Premier League, and he will be able to take his talents to the ‘next level’ per se, in terms of resources.

He has always been ambitious and his drive to be the best with a clear philosophy of using young players and playing a high-pressing game has inspired plenty of other PL clubs to follow suit in hiring managers with similar traits. Pochettino said very little for months when he left Southampton to join Tottenham, and he will be the same as he is asked about heading to United in the coming months.

But is the grass always greener? That is what Pochettino has to decide.

He was correct in deciding to leave Southampton for Tottenham in 2014, but the gulf in the size and resources of those clubs was clear. Can that be said for the gap between Tottenham and United? Spurs are a club on the up in so many ways, while United are stagnant after the failed tenures of David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. But a sizeable jolt in the right direction would wake them up in a big way and it is likely the entire United hierarchy understands they’ve messed up big time in recent years.

That plays perfectly into Pochettino’s hands and he will get the power he demands, while his former head of recruitment at Southampton and Spurs, Paul Mitchell, is rumored to be heading to United in the overhaul of their football operations.

Of course, United could stick with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer permanently if he works wonders between now and the end of his caretaker role in May. But we have to be honest, the whole reason United hired a caretaker manager in the first place is because Pochettino wasn’t going to be able to, and didn’t want to, leave Spurs midseason.

Right now, for him and his staff, this decision will probably be the toughest Pochettino has ever had to make.

But this all comes down to one thing: ambition. And Pochettino has plenty of it.

Pochettino should continue the trajectory of his career and move to United to become a hero at Old Trafford. As harsh as that sounds, that is the next step in his career and it seems like it will be a once in a lifetime opportunity he cannot turn down.

Merry Christmas, Spurs fans…