In Depth

‘Wheels are falling off’: what now for Man Utd and Solskjaer?

Old Trafford boss has a huge summer ahead in the next transfer window

As Manchester City were celebrating taking a step closer to retaining their Premier League crown Manchester United were left to reflect on a disappointing derby defeat.

The 2-0 reverse at Old Trafford was United’s seventh loss in nine games in all competitions. It leaves the Red Devils sixth in the Premier League table and at risk of missing out on qualification for next season’s Uefa Champions League.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had a superb start after taking over as caretaker in December and only suffered one loss in his first 17 matches. However, since he was appointed as the club’s full-time manager in March things have not gone so well for the Norwegian.

Celebrating their victory City supporters chanted “the wheels are falling off” to their rival fans at the Theatre of Dreams on Wednesday night. It’s now down to Solskjaer and the United board to stop the nightmare and avoid what could be an almighty crash for the footballing giant.

Prepare to work hard

Speaking after the match Solskjaer praised his side for their response to the 4-0 Everton debacle at the weekend. However, he admits he is learning which of his players are willing to “sacrifice” themselves to bring success back to Old Trafford.

On Sunday United host Chelsea in what is a classic “six-pointer” in the race to finish in the Premier League top four. While that game is the immediate focus, Solskjaer is also looking further ahead.

“We have to work harder,” said the 46-year-old. “The first day of pre-season is going to be a big one and we will see who has looked after themselves in the summer.

“You need to think long term, but you learn about players more and more, whether they’ve gone into a comfort zone, and who will be willing to sacrifice to take us forward?

“We can’t linger along many years because the Premier League is so competitive you’ll suddenly be caught up. I’m concerned about lack of results and in times like this it’s not time to point fingers at anyone. We have got to stick together and the strange reality is we’re in a shout for top four.”

Huge gulf in class

United came into the derby on the back of that hammering at Everton last weekend. While their performance was better than the Goodison Park horror-show they were never at the races against City, who now have 25 points more than the struggling Red Devils.

Defeat against City represented another low for United, says the Daily Mail. They have not scored a goal in five hours, are 12 matches without a clean sheet and Solskjaer has the worst win rate of any full-time boss.

The Guardian comments that Solskjaer’s United are “stuck in a footballing Pompeii” because of their obsession with the past. Barney Ronay said: “None of this is Solskjaer’s fault. He is simply the latest hired hand to find himself staring into that vacuum of leadership and planning, a job that is simply too big to fix from the factory floor.

“In Solskjaer’s case there has been something particularly painful about watching that retro-schtick, the obsession with the shadow triumphs of the past, go from a source of inspiration to a source of stasis.”

The Daily Telegraph’s Jason Burt continued the “stuck in the past” theme by saying United have an identity crisis and no clear plan. It’s no wonder Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp declined the opportunity to become manager at Old Trafford.

Keane rants at the ‘bluffers’

Sitting in the Sky Sports studio as a pundit for the derby on Wednesday night was former United skipper Roy Keane.

Metro reports that the Irishman hit out at United’s squad for throwing former manager Jose Mourinho “under the bus” and fears they could do the same to Solskjaer.

Keane said: “Leopards don’t change their spots, there’s too many bluffers at this club to get United back to the very top. Even the point about United having to finish fourth tells you how the standards have dropped on the pitch both on and off the pitch.

“It’s not up to the manager to motivate the players, you’ve got to motivate yourself, you’ve got to be up for every game at Manchester United. And the fact Ole has got to discuss it after the game, and again the following few days about not being up for a game of football, he must be hugely embarrassed.”

Changes will happen

In response to Keane’s comments ESPN reports that Solskjaer has ensured Keane there will be changes at Old Trafford this summer.

“With Roy I’ve always had a great relationship with him and I value his opinion very highly,” said Solskjaer. “He’s got his opinion, we played together for many years, he’s a Man Utd guy, he hurts just as much as anyone else connected that we’re so far behind City.

“It’s my job that when we come back to pre-season that I have the right characters in and around. When you’re at Man Utd the spotlight will be on you and you’ve got to make sure you come into work every single day with the effort like today. That’s your duty.”

Get rid of the weeds

Sky Sports pundits Keane and Gary Neville gave their opinions on United’s problems and looked at what will be a huge summer for Solskjaer.

Keane believes that Solskjaer’s priority has to be the defence, but it’s “chaos behind the scenes” at Old Trafford.

He said: “If you’re a top player now you will not want to come to Man Utd because there are better options out there.

“Unless you have a decent keeper and a decent back four, you start there. In terms of foundations, trophies, competing at the top. I’ve been saying it for a few years at United.

“Everyone is talking about midfielders and attacking players, first and foremost you get your back five sorted out or else there is a long way back.”

Former United and England defender Neville was equally as scathing: “I bet Ole can’t wait for the summer to adapt the squad and clean out what he wants to clean out. Rid the garden of the weeds and bring in fresh blood. Pre-season with his own players, his own programme.”

Who’s out at Old Trafford?  

While United continue to be linked with a host of players, their transfer strategy will start with who they want to keep.

Solskjaer will oversee a summer overhaul of his squad with many of the highest-earners set for the exit. The Sun says that United have set up an “emergency pay-off fund” to offload “flops” including £505,000-a-week Alexis Sanchez and defender Marcos Rojo.

Midfielder Paul Pogba has reportedly told his team-mates that he wants to leave. Real Madrid have been linked with a move for the Frenchman.

Sky in Italy says that striker Romelu Lukaku “dreams” of playing in Serie A while the Manchester Evening News reports that midfielder Juan Mata has been offered the chance to sign for Atletico Madrid.

United have not given up hope of keeping Ander Herrera, TeamTalk reports, but the Spaniard has been linked with a move to French giants Paris Saint-Germain.

It promises to be a huge few months for Solskjaer and his squad as they battle to finish in the Premier League top four.

United fans will now wait and see if the club legend can get the wheels back on and going in the right direction.

Premier League fixtures and TV guide

Friday 26 April
  • Liverpool vs. Huddersfield Town (8pm, live on Sky Sports)
Saturday 27 April (3pm unless stated)
  • Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Ham United (12.30pm, live on Sky Sports) 
  • Crystal Palace vs. Everton 
  • Fulham vs. Cardiff City 
  • Southampton vs. AFC Bournemouth 
  • Watford vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers 
  • Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Newcastle United (5.30pm, live on BT Sport
Sunday 28 April
  • Leicester City vs. Arsenal (12pm, live on Sky Sports) 
  • Burnley vs. Manchester City (2.05pm, live on Sky Sports) 
  • Manchester United vs. Chelsea (4.30pm, live on Sky Sports)

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