Ole Gunnar Solskjaer enjoyed an incredible start when he took over as Manchester United caretaker boss but that form has deserted his team in recent weeks.
The Norwegian won 14 of his first 17 matches in charge but just two victories in the next 11 games and seven defeats have seen United finish the season on a low note, with Sunday’s 1-1 draw at relegated Huddersfield the latest in a litany of dire displays which ended their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
So what has gone wrong and where do Solskjaer’s United go from here? Press Association Sport takes a look.
Was Jose Mourinho right about Paul Pogba?
The World Cup winner had an uneasy relationship with Solskjaer’s predecessor Mourinho, who felt the midfielder was inconsistent and not fulfilling his potential. When Solskjaer became manager, Pogba was the catalyst behind United’s revival, scoring nine goals in his first nine Premier League games in charge.
But Pogba is not performing any more and has been largely anonymous in games during the last couple of months.
Is Romelu Lukaku fit?
No is the simple answer and it explains his lack of form this season. The striker scored 27 goals in all competitions during his debut campaign at Old Trafford. He has often had the tendency to go missing in matches but you can forgive that when he is hitting the back of the net. But that has not been happening.
Since netting twice in Paris in United’s memorable Champions League comeback against Paris St Germain on March 6, Lukaku has failed to score again. His contribution has been worryingly below par and the Belgium international looks too bulky and muscular, which is affecting his ability to run. That can easily be remedied by a good pre-season under Solskjaer and at just 25, Lukaku’s prime years should still be ahead of him.
At least United can rely on David De Gea, right?
There is no doubt that the Spaniard is one of the finest goalkeepers in the world but his form recently has been alarming. Uncharacteristic errors are becoming more frequent and De Gea has been at fault for goals against Arsenal, Everton, Barcelona, Manchester City and Chelsea in the past two months.
Much has been made of his future being uncertain but he has lived with the rumours of Real Madrid’s interest for a few years now and still thrived. Solskjaer has stuck by De Gea and rightly so. Financially, it makes no sense to spend upwards of £60million on a new goalkeeper when you already have one of the world’s best.
They say form is temporary and class is permanent. Well, if that is the case, the money men at Old Trafford should make sure De Gea stays around for a long time yet.
Is there a case for the defence?
Mourinho made strengthening his central defensive options the priority during the summer transfer window. His list of targets reportedly included Toby Alderweireld, Harry Maguire, Diego Godin, Yerry Mina and Jerome Boateng. But none of them arrived at Old Trafford. Senior sources at the club claimed the lack of transfer activity was not a question of money but value, with few defenders on the market considered an upgrade on Mourinho’s current crop – which he was able to guide to a second-placed finish in the Premier League last season and an FA Cup final.
However, United have conceded 52 Premier League goals this season, with one match still to be played. That is more than Wolves, Everton, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Newcastle. United lack leadership and organisation at the back and if they are to improve next season and return to the top four in the Premier League then this must be addressed.
How can Solskjaer turn it around?
Despite the inconsistency of Pogba, Lukaku and De Gea, these remain top class players and along with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Luke Shaw there is a platform from which Solskjaer can try to build. But now he has got his feet under the table the scale of his task has become clear – United’s squad needs a huge overhaul in the summer. If they had managed to qualify for the Champions League this season, it would have papered over the cracks.
During Solsjaer’s five months at the helm there will be players who he feels have bought into how he wants to play and players who have drifted to the wayside. Solskjaer needs to bring in his own players and put an identity on this United team and he needs to be given the money to do so. It will not be a quick-fix and it could take several transfer windows.