Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s position at Manchester United is almost reaching an untenable position with recent one-sided defeats to big rivals Liverpool and Manchester City highlighting the magnitude of the gap between the clubs.
Unfortunately for Solskjaer, though he still remains the United boss, many fans are growing excited by the prospect of who’ll inevitably replace him, and the leading candidate to do so looks to be the highly-revered Ralf Rangnick.
The German is a unique character in football.
Though an established manager who has done stellar managerial work at clubs like Schalke, Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig, his astute football brain has seen him undertake furthermore significant club roles away from the dugout too.
He successfully operated as the Red Bull Group’s Director of Football from 2012 and was later appointed as Head of Sport and Development in 2019. He continues to work in such a capacity for the Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow.
And there’s a hope he’d use all of his experience across different departments to come in at Old Trafford and have a transformational impact for the club in a number of key areas.
First and foremost on the pitch, United fans are screaming out to see some form of identity in their team’s play.
Right now under Solskjaer, this is something that’s amiss. The Norwegian has regularly spoken of his United team being a side on the front foot, pressing high with plenty of intensity to their play.
In terms of playing style, Rangnick’s is best described as intense. At Hoffenheim, he utilised a 4-3-3, whilst at RB Leipzig he played versions of a 4-4-2, which sometimes resembled a midfield diamond or a 4-2-2-2.
How United might line up
With Rangnick’s philosophy clearer, we can probably assume with some certainty that a back four would remain at United.
You can’t imagine that Solskjaer’s current favoured foursome of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire or Luke Shaw would be broken up, even despite their struggles as a group this season.
Beyond playing an influential role in transforming his team’s successes and playing philosophies, it’s also been Rangnick’s standout work in terms of recruitment when operating as a Director of Football that’s helped elevate his stature in the game.
For a number of years, United have struggled on the recruitment front. Despite boasting one of the bigger budgets in the Premier League, there hasn’t always been a well thought out plan or structure to their purchases.
Ed Woodward knows his final Manchester United decision and it’s not Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
It was announced in April that Woodward would leave United at the end of the calendar year – his exit was brought forward amid the backlash from the collapsed European Super League proposal – and that means that his 16-year career at the club is about to end.
While there has been noise that Woodward could remain linked to United in an advisory capacity in the new year, he’ll no longer be the commander in chief at United. He’ll no longer be the face of the Glazers’ regime. He’ll no longer antagonise fans with decisions.
Woodward will leave after the festive period and that’s the best Christmas present that some supporters could receive, however, before that gift is delivered and unwrapped, Woodward has one last important decision to make before he heads for the exit.
Although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has come under unprecedented pressure in recent weeks, the Norwegian has survived to remain at the helm and there’s a feeling coming from within the club – exacerbated by the lack of potential replacements – that there is a reluctance to part ways with Solskjaer despite his side criminally underperforming after an outstanding summer transfer window.
There is a recognition that results have not been good enough, but Solskjaer survived the Liverpool debacle and certain figures in power at United believe that he can turn the club’s fortunes around despite the Reds’ performances suggesting otherwise.
It also seems highly unlikely that Woodward will allow his final act as executive vice-chairman to be the sacking of Solskjaer.
Woodward has offered unwavering support to Solskjaer across his tenure and so the United boss potentially leaving the club in a vulnerable position in the Premier League table would as much as the executive vice-chairman’s responsibility as the manager’s.
There is another increasingly pressing issue at United that Woodward knows will be easier for him to manoeuvre and address, though, and that’s the future of Paul Pogba, who has just seven months remaining on his current United contract.
Pogba is free to negotiate pre-contract terms with clubs outside of the Premier League in January and, despite Old Trafford chiefs being keen on the player signing an extension, little progress has been made in talks with the player’s agent Mino Raiola.
The Frenchman could sign a contract to move away from United for free in just over a month and that problem needs to be solved.
Pogba has not been the player that United thought they were bringing ‘home’ to Manchester five years ago. The 28-year-old has failed to produce consistent displays and his flashes of brilliance in a United shirt have been just that. After making an impressive start to the new season, his performances have gradually worsened and he wouldn’t be a loss to this United side on current form.
When considering that, it seems an amicable divorce between Pogba and United in the January transfer window could be wise.
There shouldn’t be a shortage of interest in Pogba. Juventus and Real Madrid have been regularly linked with the player and some have claimed that both clubs’ involvement in the Super League plan was born out of financial necessity amid their struggles.
Signing Pogba for a reduced fee in January should be tempting and Woodward can begin discussions to facilitate that now.
Both Solskjaer’s and Pogba’s futures at United need to be addressed, however, it seems sorting the latter is the convenient option.
Ronaldo’s Portugal forced into World Cup play-offs after late Mitrovic goal
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal side have been forced into the World Cup play-offs after a late goal from Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Serbia’s 1-2 victory sends them straight to next winter’s tournament in Qatar, while Portugal must now win two single-legged games in March in order to qualify.
Portugal needed only a point to qualify automatically, were playing at home, and were 17 places above their opponents in the FIFA World Rankings.
Renato Sanches appeared to have given Portugal the perfect start, putting them ahead after only two minutes, but Ajax captain Dusan Tadic levelled after an error from Rui Patricio.
After a further hour without goals, the game looked to be heading for the draw which would send Portugal through.
However, a corner sent to the back post found substitute Mitrovic standing alone, and he powered a downward header into the net for a 90th minute winner.
Ronaldo had a quiet game, coming closest to scoring with a first-half freekick which he fired over. The 2022 World Cup could be the 36-year-old’s final international tournament.
Speaking after the match, his teammate Bernardo Silva said: “It was a bad game for Portugal. We managed to score the goal early but from then on we stopped playing. I cannot find a great explanation for this, words fail me.
“It was terrible, we have to do much better because we have a play-off in March and we will do our best to qualify. But at home, with 65,000 fans, we had to do much better.
“I apologise to the Portuguese (fans) who watched a game they shouldn’t have watched. The plan was to try to have the ball, we were completely dominated by Serbia. With the quality of our players this is hardly admissible.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already revealed Manchester United’s next formation
Manchester United’s brightest day in the miserable three-week run between the October and November international breaks initially threatened to herald a new dawn.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer clung on to his job in the wake of the 5-0 defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford and a week later he ripped up his United system, abandoning the 4-2-3-1 and opting for a back three at Tottenham.
It seemed a success on that Saturday night. United won 3-0 and the crisis had been calmed, but the caveat was it came against a Spurs side so abject they sacked their manager two days later.
The back four had left United’s defence exposed all season, culminating in the successive Premier League defeats to Leicester City and Liverpool when nine goals were conceded and it still felt like the damage could have been more severe.
In North London, the back three seemed to give United stability and control, something they’d lacked all season. It was comfortably the best defensive performance of the season.
It was used again in Bergamo a few days later but Raphael Varane’s injury in the first half when United were 1-0 down led to it being abandoned against Atalanta. It was back against Manchester City but Pep Guardiola’s side are supreme at pulling apart a back three and they were in total control at half-time.
At 2-0 down Solskjaer ripped up the back three at the break, with Jadon Sancho coming on. The return to a 4-2-3-1 made little difference and United didn’t have a touch in the City penalty area in the second half until the fourth minute of injury time.
But speaking after that Old Trafford defeat Solskjaer suggested the back three had been out of necessity more than anything else, hinting even the win at Tottenham hadn’t entirely satisfied his desire to turn United into an attacking side.
Asked if he was still the man to take United forward, he said he was and then outlined his mission: “[To get] back to where we should be, for me it is like back to what we started to look like, a proper team and what I wanted to see and then we have had two or three or four weeks a difficult spell.
“The result against Tottenham was good but it was not what we want to look like. We want to be on the front foot, to be more aggressive. We have a couple of good results Atalanta and Tottenham and today was a big step back.”
That desire to be on the front foot suggests the switch to a back three will only be a short-term solution. It didn’t work against City and that might well be the end of the experiment.
It would certainly be a negative move to stick with it at Watford after those comments, so expect Solskjaer to drill his team in a 4-2-3-1 once again when he returns to Carrington today.
That system has posed United plenty of problems this season, but Solskjaer’s desire to see his team attack and be on the front foot looks to be winning the day.
Solskjaer’s principles are clearly to attack and in the next few weeks, it looks like he’s going to try and live or die by those principles.
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