It has never been easy for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to manage Manchester United over the past two and a half seasons. The job comes with a tremendous amount of pressure when you work for one of the biggest clubs in the world. That is, nevertheless, to be expected.
To his credit, Solskjaer has taken a club that was in disarray when he took over as interim manager in late 2018 following Jose Mourinho's dismissal, and has slowly but steadily built a team that is far more talented ability-wise than any United side since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure.
However, the Norwegian gaffer is still yet to win a trophy, putting United on the verge of their longest trophy drought in decades. Despite progressing far in most competitions, including reaching the Europa League final last year, the club's hunt for something tangible to attach to its on-field achievement continues.
Instead, the only real gains for United have been an improved Premier League position. Solskjaer has led the team to fourth and second place in successive seasons in which he has been in charge for the entire season, showing some improvement over his more experienced predecessors' fluctuations.
Some may attribute this to luck, with Leicester City virtually sealing their top-four chances on the final day of the season versus United in 2019/20, and clubs like Liverpool dealing with major injuries or Chelsea in transition last season.
He's also had a tumultuous time at home and away, with United breaking the record for most consecutive away games without losing (29) - a streak that ended only last weekend against Leicester – but also having one of the worst home starts in the club's history. However, this season has introduced a new level of pressure, which may be too much.
The Ronaldo Issue
United had an objectively good window, at least on paper. It would have been a wonderful opportunity to bring in a winner like Raphael Varane and a highly sought-after youngster like Jadon Sancho.
But it was difficult to turn down the opportunity to recruit Cristiano Ronaldo, widely considered as the greatest footballer of all time. However, this may be Solskjaer's worst mistake. Ronaldo is a winner, just like Varane. CR7 should improve the United team tenfold in terms of winning attitude and professionalism.
Ronaldo also brings a pedigree to the club that hasn't been seen since he left for Real Madrid in 2009, and he will undoubtedly bring goals.
After all, he's already scored five goals for United, including a brace on his second debut against Newcastle and a crucial Champions League victory over Villareal.
With his background comes a great deal of expectation, well beyond what was previously present. Ronaldo is expected to push United to the next level they have been searching for since he is a ready-made goal machine. Ronaldo, on the other hand, is 36 years old.
While he is a freak of nature, he has also meticulously maintained his physique to maintain top fitness, which is where the major issue arises.
The Norwegian gaffer has implemented a style that demands his side to push from the front, therefore a striker who can press often is key for the system he wants to impose.
However, as you can see from the picture above, the Portuguese simply do not do this. And it is a major roadblock for United. Last season, United ranked 6th among all clubs in terms of pressures in the attacking third,
According to FB.ref. United are not even in the top half of the league for that measure this season, ranking 14th for pressures in the attacking third, highlighting a fundamental weakness in the system this season.
In fact, Ronaldo has only pressed 1.36 times per 90 in the offensive third all season, emphasizing his lack of pressing. He pressed 3.20 per 90 even last season. Although it is unclear if this is due to the player refusing to follow the system or the management ordering him not to, it is necessary to evaluate all scenarios.
It's also worth noting that this will put more pressure on the other offensive players. To counter for Ronaldo's lack of pressing, key players like Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood will be obliged to press more.
This will exhaust them and perhaps make them more susceptible to injury, and United cannot afford to be without Fernandes for a lengthy period of time.
Lack of priority in the summer transfer window
Another issue with Ronaldo's signing was that it snuffed out any any chances of the Manchester based outfit of buying a true defensive midfielder, a position of weakness for them that has been exposed several times with disastrous results.
Ronaldo will inevitably demand a huge wage in order to justify the money he will bring the club through shirt sales and additional sponsorships (not that United need it), and as a result, funds that would have been set aside for the potential signing of a top-class defensive midfielder have been reallocated to cover his astronomical wages.
As previously said, the facts aren't entirely known behind the scenes, so it's unclear if Solskjaer and the board were completely in accord on the signing (which would be understandable) or whether the Norwegian had any reservations, which is highly unlikely. Whatever the case may be, the transfer has sealed and delivered, and it may prove to be the Norwegian tactician undoing.
To say the least, the lack of attention displayed in the transfer market for a position perhaps more vital to solve than centre back and right-wing was frightening. If United are to win any trophy at the end of the season, it must be handled in January rather than the summer.
We'll find out whether he's up to the challenge in the coming weeks, when United faces plenty of good opposition, as well as a pair of Champions League matches against Atalanta.
Photo Credit: Google Images
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