LONDON: Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are back to square one. Last week’s easy win over pre-Conte Tottenham has been exposed as a football illusion.
United, in their 2-0 home derby defeat by City, were as poor as they had been in the five-goal demolition by Liverpool. Old Trafford is a fortress no longer.
The November international break is always a dangerous time for struggling managers. Solskjaer’s one slice of comfort is that they sit top of their Champions League group.
City were magnificent but United allowed them to play their own game.
Former captain Roy Keane, a fierce media analyst of United and Solskjaer, thinks the Norwegian should take the initiative and quit while the owners dither. Keane said: “If your job depends on Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire, Fred and Wan-Bissaka fhen you are in trouble. Ole, you might be better off out of it.”
Keane, comparing this defeat with the Liverpool game, added: “This felt worse. City toyed with United. Ole had to look at himself in the mirror. United are in a bad place. More hope than belief.”
Solskjaer played the first half with 3-5-2 and the second with 4-2-3-1. He brought on Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and even the unwanted Donny van de Beek but all in vain. A seventh-minute own goal by Eric Bailly and 45th-minute ‘steal’ by Bernardo Silva were more than enough. City would have matched Liverpool’s five-goal haul had it not been for the brilliance of David de Gea in United’s goal.
One escape route for the Glazers and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has been shut down by Tottenham’s acquisition of Antonio Conte. Other candidates of the necessary stature are few and far between. That is one factor which might just keep Solskjaer in place until the Champions League qualification has been gained or lost.
Solskjaer said: “Do I feel under pressure? No. I don’t start to do that. I have good communications with the club. We’re honest about the situation. This has been a big backward step. I’ll do what I can to improve it.”
The size of his task was demonstrated by City’s superiority. They used Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin de Bruyne and Silva in interchanging attacking midfield roles. They took it in turns to push forward in support of Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden.
Manager Pep Guardiola said: “There is more to come. The city is blue and we know how important that is. It was a solid performance and a deserved victory. Apart from a few minutes in the second half when we lost some stupid balls, we were really good. In the second half we kept the ball in the fridge.”
City completed more passes (753) than any visitors to Old Trafford in the Premier League since such data was collected first in 2003-04. Even more painful for United, they did so on the 35th anniversary of United’s appointment of (then plain) Alex Ferguson as manager. A different era.