Ole Gunnar Solskjaer set himself up for a fall before this derby meeting with Manchester City by boldly claiming Manchester United were the biggest club in the city and probably the world.
Solskjaer may be right in his calculations by some measure but certainly not when it comes to the not insignificant matter of actual football.
And how United’s hapless manager hit the ground with an almighty thud as he and his team were outclassed and embarrassed by a far greater margin than this relatively slim 2-0 scoreline suggests.
Given United’s current form, while recalling how they were humiliated 5-0 by Liverpool in their last Old Trafford league game, it might be suggested Solskjaer is guilty of lobbing bricks at his rivals from the Premier League’s largest greenhouse.
It was a judgement that borders on delusion given United’s reduced circumstances and, to put it bluntly, neither Solskjaer nor Manchester United are in any position to be making ambitious proclamations of this kind in the direction of Manchester City.
This may not have been a repeat scoreline of that Liverpool humbling but when judged on the gulf between the sides, the managerial and coaching qualities of the two managers and the current status of Manchester United when set alongside those clubs they aspire to rival, this was every bit as bad and chastening.
Liverpool declared at 5-0 against Manchester United and spared them further punishment. Manchester City were able to do something similar at 2-0 and it was only down to keeper David De Gea that the result did not end up in the realms of an even bigger thrashing.
This was one-sided in the extreme. Manchester United actually had more shots at David de Gea than they did at Ederson. It was that bad from Solskjaer’s perspective.
It makes the 3-0 win at Tottenham last week, amid the dying embers of Nuno Espirito Santo’s tenure, look very much like an exception to the rule as United head into the international break with one win from six league games and four points from a possible 18.
United have stood firmly alongside Solskjaer through this turbulent spell, although his management is clearly under question, but now they have a two-week international break to ponder some more – although one potential candidate (who it should be said United were not interested in) has already gone west with Antonio Conte in at Spurs.
This performance was another betrayal of United’s traditions. Solskjaer is fond of talking about “the United Way” and how they must be a constant source of entertainment and excitement. They were certainly exciting and entertaining here, but only for the joyous City fan who revelled in their domination while taunting the Norwegian with chants of “Ole’s at the wheel”, “five more tears” and “Ole, Ole, give us a wave”.
United were actually more like a lower league team setting themselves up in an FA Cup tie against a Premier League team as they sat back and took the punishment – a ploy undermined by wretched defending and an unhappy knack of presenting the ball straight back to Manchester City on the rare occasions they were allowed to have it.
No aggression. No ambition. Too passive. Outclassed.
This was Liverpool episode two in everything but the scoreline and the greater unrest and jeering that came down from the stands. There was some flimsy defiance but it was all done with an air of resignation in these painful times for United’s support.
Old Trafford has shown great patience towards Solskjaer as befits his status as a club legend but the supply is not limitless and it would be a major surprise if the same did not apply to the club’s hierarchy.
The biggest cheer of the afternoon came when Donny van de Beek, the Netherlands midfield man so spectacularly marginalised by Solskjaer, replaced Fred with 10 minutes left. Quite what he was meant to achieve in that time with United on damage limitation is a mystery but at least he got to stretch his legs while wearing a Manchester United shirt.
Much has been made, perfectly understandably, of Manchester City’s spending but there is no escaping the brutal reality that Solskjaer has also spent more than £400m and is left with a side that is currently on a different, inferior plane to their one-time “noisy neighbours” – and that is before we even get to Liverpool and Chelsea.
Once again, England duo Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire were awful in defence, exemplified by their mysterious watching brief on Joao Cancelo’s cross for Bernardo Silva’s second goal for City. Bruno Fernandes looked exhausted by the final whistle but this was more likely the result of his constant complaining to team-mates and the officials than any actual footballing impact on this game. Aaron Wan-Bissaka looked lost.
The grim statistics are piling up like rubble around the feet of Solskjaer, adding to the pressure he is now under.
United are now without a clean sheet in their past 14 home games in all competitions. The only longer run in their history came in a 21-game run between April 1958 and March 1959. They have lost eight home games in all competitions in 2021, their most in a calendar year since losing eight in 1989.
It was also the first time United have lost consecutive home league games without scoring since March 2014. The opponents? Liverpool and Manchester City. The manager? David Moyes. We know how that ended.
Manchester United had just four touches in the opposition box in this match, their fewest in a Premier League match since 2008-09 – when Opta began recording data – and the fewest by a home team since Fulham’s three against Arsenal in September 2020.
Damning stuff but evidence that this Manchester United team is currently going nowhere under Solskjaer, although some very experienced players are doing their manager no favours whatsoever when he needs them most.
Those of us who have witnessed United’s defeats at Leicester City and at home to Liverpool and Manchester City in recent weeks have been subjected to a style and results that are quite simply unsustainable for a club of this stature.
Something simply has to change. The biggest question is whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be the manager given the chance to do it?
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