Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs his Manchester United side to produce a convincing performance in the Champions League Group H game against Istanbul Basaksehir today, as the pressure continues to mount on the United boss.
It is unlikely that today’s result in Turkey will be make-or-break for Solskjaer, but there could certainly be outcomes – not particularly the result – that could increase that pressure exponentially.
A display such as the 5-0 win over RB Leipzig last week would certainly buy Solskjaer more support, understanding and perhaps time, as it would suggest that the recent poor performances in the Premier League are nothing more than blips.
But a shambolic performance such as that shocking 6-1 home defeat to Spurs – even though United would remain in a strong position in the group – could indicate that problems in the dressing room and/or board room are mounting and that the Norwegian is losing control.
Solskjaer’s body language at the pre-match press conference was not positive. True, the conference was blighted by technical problems which meant the journalist’s questions had to be typed and read out to the manager and his captain, Harry Maguire, but Solskjaer came across like a teenager at times in his reaction to the situation.
He seemed particularly adolescent in his shifting and sighing when answering questions about Paul Pogba’s recent form.
He was in no sense authoritative.
The season started with a litany of defensive lapses, in particular from Maguire, goalkeeper David de Gea and centre-back Victor Lindelof. Those lapses seem to have abated, but arguably have been replaced by discplinary issues both on and off the pitch, with Martial’s sending off against Spurs, Pogba having conceded two needless penalties, an alleged dressing room bust up involving Bruno Fernandes and rumours of some laddish behaviour from Mason Greenwood.
Maguire’s ill-judged antics during a summer holiday in Mykonos are also still fairly fresh in the mind of many people.
When the football world debates whether Solskjaer should be given more time at United, arguments are based on statistics, such as his superior win percentage after 100 games to that of Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby at the same stage. But equally important must be the impression given to the public – and the board – of authority.
Busby and Ferguson commanded respect. Their players were by no means always well-behaved; Busby had the likes of George Best to contend with, and Ferguson had a number of famous disciplinary issues with which to deal.
But on the whole, both of those great men put out sides that looked like they knew what they were doing, they were drilled well. Defensive problems, poor decision-making and other bad habits were stamped out quickly, players were motivated one way or another and discipline, when challenged, was always restored quickly.
It is hard to imagine either of them tolerating the wide range of sloppiness that Solskjaer is enduring and that begs the question as to whether the 47-year-old is a strong enough man manager.
At times it is almost as if he should be wearing one of those caps that say ‘I’m their leader. Which way did they go?’
That is why it is crucial that whatever the result tonight, Solskjaer and his men start to demonstrate professionalism, application and concentration both on and off the pitch, to prove to the board and to the football world as a whole that Ole really is at the wheel.
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