After three years of building, the only thing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is currently building around Manchester United is malaise.
If last weekend’s defeat to Leicester City marked the beginning of the end for the Norwegian at the club, this eye-watering humiliation at the hands of United’s greatest rivals should be the point of no return.
Every criticism that has been made of Solskjaer as a manager manifested itself in this performance – the lack of defensive shape, the inability to control games and a fundamental weakness at home, among other things.
If Manchester United now have the talent to challenge for major honours, as most agree they do, how can Solskjaer last any longer as the figure holding them back?
At this point, the only thing that would keep Solskjaer in a job beyond Monday morning would be a lack of ambition at boardroom level [and potentially a lack of available alternatives].
A failure to sack him would prove once and for all that the Glazers, maligned for paying more attention to their bottom line than performances on the pitch, don’t care about winning.
From start to finish, this was a brutal illustration of the stark difference between Manchester United and Liverpool at this moment in time. While the latter are more than the sum of their parts, the former are considerably less.
Liverpool look to have rediscovered everything that made them special two seasons ago. United, on the other hand, are distinctly ordinary. In fact, ordinary might be an improvement.
The way Liverpool cut through United’s defence with such ease after only four minutes was reminiscent of the farcical goal Solskjaer’s side conceded away to Istanbul Basaksehir in last season’s Champions League. It’s rare that an elite level team allows their shape to become so fragmented.
Manchester United’s defending for Liverpool’s second goal wasn’t much better, although the defensive shape couldn’t be blamed.
Instead, it came from a lack of leadership as Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw clashed for the same ball on the edge of their own area. In both the tactical battle and the individual contests, Liverpool looked far superior throughout as they scored a third, fourth and fifth.
United’s heaviest-ever home defeat to Liverpool, which saw them out-scored and out-fired by every measure including Expected Goals [1.43 to 3.53], shots on target [four to eight], completed passes [321 to 645] and possession won in the final third [one to seven] wasn’t out of keeping with what we have seen from them so far this season.
Only two Premier League teams have kept fewer clean sheets this term than Solskjaer’s side. They’re also plum last for tackles per game and errors leading to opposition shots.
For United, the most damning thing about this specific performance was that Liverpool didn’t even need to be in top form to achieve this. In fact, the visitors were frequently careless in the centre of the pitch despite having a numerical advantage against Fred and Scott McTominay.
Liverpool coasted for spells, particularly after United were reduced to 10 men following Paul Pogba’s dismissal. They were sharper in their Champions League win away to Atletico Madrid.
Is Salah best player in the world right now?
Of course, Liverpool’s brilliance should also be noted. Salah, as the hat-trick hero, produced another performance to bolster his case for being the best player in the world right now.
Trent Alexander-Arnold played a key role in stretching the opposition defence with his overlapping runs while Diogo Jota offered physicality and cutting edge.
Nobody registered more shots [seven] or shots on target [four] than Salah who also made four ball recoveries and created four big chances. He didn’t even misplace a single pass in the first half.
As much as this was a show of strength by the Egyptian, it also showed how United had no way to stop him.
In the past, Solskjaer has been rescued by the brilliance of his players as individuals, but this is now the thing that will surely bring his managerial tenure as Manchester United manager to an end sooner or later.
Imagine how good this team could be if that individual brilliance was harnessed in a coherent team structure, like Liverpool’s.
There’s no reason United can’t be like Liverpool. They have a financial advantage over their North West rivals as well as the traditional standing to attract the best players, but while Liverpool made a series of courageous decisions to reach this level under Klopp, the Old Trafford club continue to show footballing cowardice.
Sunday’s defeat revealed the true nature of Solskjaer’s team. How Manchester United respond will reveal a lot about the club itself.
Source: Graham Ruthven