Manchester United’s Top Four Priority6 min read
After the heights of the miracle in Paris to the lows of a crushing loss at the Molineux Stadium, Manchester United have experienced it all under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
It has to be said that the exit in the FA Cup quarter final was certainly hugely frustrating for Manchester United fans, especially because of their chance of going all the way once again and competing for silverware in a turbulent season.
However, it was not meant to be. Games are going to be lost under the Norwegian manager, though the atmosphere around the supporters suggests that their overall performance against Wolves is what was more disappointing.
Holes in the squad
The enthusiasm and intensity had been lacking on Saturday evening compared to the week before in Paris, accumulating only two shots on-target in 95 minutes – one of those being Marcus Rashford’s last-gasp consolation goal.
No one should be overreacting and suggesting that Solskjær is now not the right fit for Manchester United, but it does emphasise the lack of quality recruitment in the last few years. Too many players have come and gone at Old Trafford in what seems to be a permanent revolving door, coupled with a lack of options down the right-hand side that has considerably reduced attacking threat.
For one reason or another, which remains bemusing to fans, the Red Devils’ recruitment staff and management have yet to add a right-sided player to the squad. Man United have been crying out for a consistent winger since Juan Mata arrived in 2013, with Jesse Lingard, the Spaniard and young Diogo Dalot now filling in down the right-hand side.
Sticking with the Ferguson philosophy
Solskjær is set to become Manchester United’s latest permanent manager come the end of the season, which will give him his first opportunity to sign players that he desires ready for the following campaign. Fans and the wider spectator are yet to see what type of targets he has in mind, given the lack of noise and urgency in the January transfer window, which will provide great insight into his thought process for the years to follow.
One thing that is clear as day is his faith in youth. Having risen up in Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, he understands and appreciates the emboldened tradition that holds the club together: the opportunity given to academy players.
In Man United’s biggest game of the season to date, Solskjær named James Garner, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood on the bench. There were injuries within the squad that also allowed for those names to be there, but the Norwegian did not have to bring on Greenwood and Chong to try and influence the game – especially when they were not in the ascendancy at that point.
Between now and the end of the season, Manchester United still have a mighty task to accomplish: qualify for next year’s Champions League. Sitting in fifth place, two points off fourth and three off third is still a healthy position to be in, but Solskjær and his players know they are going to have to be nearly faultless in order to beat their rivals to the finish line.
With a Champions League quarter final against Barcelona firmly on their minds as well, it is crucially important that the squad are not distracted by the priority of finishing within the top four. Anything else, such as a European run, is an added bonus – especially given their next opponents are favourites for the Champions League.
💚 RESPECT 💚
Messi received an ovation from fans at the Benito Villamarin after his superhuman performance. 👏👏#RealBetisBarça pic.twitter.com/Xx5riwPixq
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) March 17, 2019
Solskjær has done a remarkable job in overturning the mood in the camp as well as implementing his own ideologies and promotion of youth, but now it really counts when the going gets tough and results are not what was expected.
It might have only been one loss to Wolves – who are a very good side against the top six – but the Norwegian now must prove that he has what it takes to finish the job this season.