WAbout 10 minutes before Wankdorf Stadion, there was a sudden noise on the track. Manchester United Bench. Referee François Letexier missed a foul on Paul Pogba, and Ole Gunnar Solskjær was joined at the touchline by Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo, making frenzied gestures in the righteous fury of the men who put their 50p in the corner. pool table and now they were watching someone else collect the balls.
If there was a motif suitable for United 2-1 surprise defeat by Young Boys, maybe it was this: United’s manager and perhaps two of their most famous players are smoking on the sidelines, not affecting anything. Instead, it was Jesse Lingard and Jordan Siebatcheu who would make decisive contributions; first with a shocking back pass and second with his grateful finish in the fifth minute of injury time.
Solskjær tried to turn the attention to the 32-year-old referee as he did not give Ronaldo a penalty at the beginning of the second half. “Sometimes you get it with young referees,” he said casually. While there are certain areas where Solskjær can be legitimately challenged, it’s probably best to bow to his decision when it comes to promoting people to major football roles with only the most trivial experience.
As is customary in these scenarios, captain Harry Maguire bravely took on post-match duties, appearing serious and remorseful, like a NASA scientist who patiently explained to world media how they had accidentally managed to lose Saturn. “No football player likes to make mistakes, but we are human,” said Lingard’s fault, and to be fair, there was little to discuss in either part of that statement.
But the most interesting part of Maguire’s analysis was when he considered the tactical changes that had occurred on both sides of the halftime break. In the wake of Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s dismissal, United played a messy makeshift 4-4-1 where Fernandes and Pogba awkwardly patrolled the flanks. After halftime, Solskjær moved to 5-3-1 and after 20 minutes United were relatively safe in the back.
“Most of their chances came late playing foursome in the first half, and with the number of bodies they threw into the box, we couldn’t get out to stop their middle,” said Maguire. “We were pretty comfortable in the second half.
“We could have done more on the ball, but in terms of shape off the ball, I felt it was much better when we went back to three. They didn’t create much of a chance.”
The problem was, neither was United. From the 25th minute on, the Young Boys had 15 shots on neither of the United. Even for a 10-man United against the weakest team in their group this was hopelessly weak and a pattern is starting to emerge for all their internal advancement under Solskjær. his record Champions League won four of them, lost seven, and in most of those losses United were not only defeated, but defeated, prevailed, prevailed.
The questions might have been less urgent if Lingard had unwisely contacted the ball instead of returning it to David de Gea, but they should have been asked nonetheless. How does one of the most impressive offensive groups in world football manage to show this little ambition against a limited number of opponents? Why does this continue to happen to Solskjær in Europe? Is that the best a club like United can do?
Solskjær certainly tried to make his mark on the lawsuits, but almost every decision he made seemed less threatening to United. Removing Jadon Sancho for Diogo Dalot was a necessary replacement, but replacing Donny van de Beek with Raphaël Varane deprived United of their midfield starting points and put them back on the defensive. Ronaldo and Fernandes were eliminated when they were removed from the game, but replacing them with Lingard and Nemanja Matic was a ridiculously backward move with Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial in reserve. “We wanted Jesse’s legs,” Solskjær said.
As a result, United was unrecognizable from the team that set off with such a promise: four of the five offensive players took off, the shape changed at least three times, the players buzzed around with the slightest idea of what to do. It’s all fine to blame individual mistakes, but at some point you have to look at the wider picture and against mid-range opponents United have produced maybe 100 minutes of good football in their first five games.
All of this brings us back to Solskjær. beat teams like this as Leeds and Newcastle is beautiful, but Ronaldo and Varane did not sign up for this reason. A club with United’s ambition should probably aim to win around 70-75% of their games, which these days usually means having a solid formula that works in most cases against most opposition at home and in Europe. Almost three years after the Solskjær era, it is still unclear exactly what this formula was.
Maybe these are just early teething problems. Perhaps Solskjær is still in the leveraged phase of the season thinking about how to make the most of Ronaldo and Fernandes and Pogba and Sancho (and Greenwood and Marcus Rashford). Or maybe that’s all, and what appears to be a master strategist striving for elite solutions is just a man standing inside a painted box and waving his arms.