After Chelsea had edged past last year’s Champions League semi-finalists Ajax on Wednesday, Manchester United scraped a win against Partizan Belgrade a day later – the two games were won by identical score lines, but the reaction from the club’s respective supporters couldn’t have been more polarising.
Whilst Frank Lampard’s side went toe-to-toe with one of the best sides in Europe, Solskjaer’s men were second best for long spells against a team that is currently fourth in the Serbian Superliga.
When Michy Batshuayi scored the winner with just a few minutes remaining, it capped one of Chelsea’s best performances under Lampard, and highlighted the progress they have made under the club legend’s guidance.
Contrastingly, United’s mind-numbingly dull performance in Serbia emphasized how little progress the team has made during their own club legend’s reign – Anthony Martial’s first-half penalty may have secured all three points, but the lack of attacking creativity was astonishing.
Before this season began, United and Chelsea looked evenly matched in all areas on paper, but some minor differences are starting to have a major effect on the pitch – United’s 4-0 win over Chelsea on the opening day couldn’t have been a more inaccurate representation of what the two clubs would achieve this season.
Much like United, Chelsea have a hugely talented crop of youth players emerging in and around the first team, but the Stamford Bridge youngsters have enjoyed far more success and playing time this season.
Fikayo Tomori has been a regular fixture at the centre-back for the Blues, but his counterpart at United, Axel Tuanzebe, has had limited opportunities.
Solskjaer has been reluctant to play Tuanzebe ahead of Victor Lindelof, but Lampard has been bold enough to drop the more experienced Andreas Christensen for Tomori.
Chelsea have reaped the benefits from Lampard’s faith in Tomori, with the 21-year-old being one of the top centre-halves in the league this season – it begs the question of why Solskjaer is not willing to take such a risk, especially after his repeated public backing of United’s youth.
The theme continues further up the pitch, with players such as Mason Greenwood, Taith Chong and Angel Gomes only trusted to start Europa League games for the Old Trafford club, while Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi (when fit) play week in week out in the Premier League at Chelsea.
A reason for this could be that the Blues’ youngsters have superior experience of first team football – Tomori, Abraham and Mount have all enjoyed fruitful spells in the Championship, while Gomes, Chong and Greenwood only have a handful of senior appearances between them.
In Solskjaer’s defence, the three United youth graduates are a few years younger than their Chelsea counterparts, so they may have been too young to consider loaning out – United’s crop of youngsters are perhaps a couple of years behind Chelsea’s in their respective growth.
The success of Chelsea’s loan system should certainly be replicated by United though – if the likes of Gomes and Chong aren’t going to start games, they should be allowed to leave on loan.
Either player would benefit hugely from regular first-team football, and they could emulate the success of someone like Mount in the next two years.
Regardless, if players such as Greenwood and Tuanzebe are deemed ‘too good’ to loan out, then they should be given ample playing time to develop at United.
Perhaps for United to become the kind of attacking outfit that Chelsea currently are, there needs to a combination of Solskjaer taking a few more risks, as well as patience from the fans as the Red Devils’ youngsters play catch-up to those in South West London.
Hopefully for the Old Trafford faithful that it is indeed the youngster’s lack of experience that is the problem – not the managers.
Lampard also enjoyed success at Championship level in management, whereas Solskjaer’s only experience at the helm of a club in England was a doomed campaign with Cardiff City.
Maybe it is just time that Solskjaer needs to transform United like Lampard has transformed Chelsea, and it will be United’s academy graduates tearing up the Champions League this time next year.