In this final 2020/21 season review, we look at the performance of the Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Solskjaer started the season badly and United languished well into the bottom half of the table for the first eight gameweeks. Having lost out on his major transfer target Jadon Sancho and not appearing to trust new signings Alex Telles and Donny van de Beek, the side that started 2020/21 was much the same as the one that ended the 2019/20 campaign.
The Red Devils’ Champions League campaign started well, winning away at Paris St Germain and thrashing RB Leipzig 5-0 at Old Trafford. But a disastrous loss away to minnows Istanbul Besaksehir sent Solskjaer’s men on a downward trajectory and they ended up crashing out of the tournament.
A second place finish in the Premier League – one place better than the previous season – probably flattered United, as their points total of 74 would have only been enough to finish 3rd, 4th or 5th on any other season in recent history. The runners up prize in the Europa League could, similarly, be construed as a sign of progress – as it was one step better than the semi-finals Solskjaer’s men achieved the previous year. But for most, Villareal were a very beatable team and the final performance was a bitter disappointment.
Solskjaer did well to turn around such a disappointing start to the season and finish in second place. There was a marginal improvement in terms of points and cup progression compared to the previous season.
There were also some memorable performances, including that 2-1 win in Paris and a 2-0 victory against Champions elect Manchester City in March.
Given the lack of major injuries this term compared to last and the addition of Telles, Van de Beek and Edinson Cavani to the squad, the progress made in 2020/21 is viewed by many as insufficient.
Solskjaer’s inability to settle on his best goalkeeper and resolve basic defensive problems, such as the frequent failures to properly defend set pieces, cost United dear from a defensive point of view and there was a general air of fragility that persisted throughout the season.
The manager was also perhaps guilty of overplaying his preferred XI, who tired considerably toward the end of the season. His persistence with Scott McTominay and Fred as a double pivot in defensive midfield severely restricted tactical options and also meant that Paul Pogba was rarely employed in the central midfield role that suits him best.
There was also an issue, which persisted from the previous season, of Solskjaer being unable tactically to breakdown a team with a low block, or a team that ‘parks the bus’. Substitutions were often made too late in the game, or not at all, and formation changes were very rare and, when they were made, generally unsuccessful.
What we expect next season
It does feel as if the powers-that-be at United will stand by the Norwegian through thick and thin and so unless there is a major crisis, he is likely to keep his job no matter what. In a football world where the managerial merry-go-round turns incessantly, this may be seen as a good thing, but only if the right horse is being backed. That remains an unknown.
Solskjaer desperately needs to improve the defensive coaching and fix all the above problems – or make progress toward fixing them – if he is to convince the fanbase that their patience will not be in vain and that he is the man to lead United back to their former glories.
Score out of 10
We give Solskjaer six points out of a possible ten for his performance in 2020/21.