The new decade has brought about new questions for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his unpredictable Manchester United side. They are without a win in three games since the turn of the year and the performances have been nothing short of woeful.
New Year, same struggling United
On New Year’s Day, we saw a lethargic United side turned over by Mikel Arteta’s energetic Arsenal. Some fans hoped that it would maybe just be a one-off due to the packed fixture schedule over Christmas.
But then came a drab 0-0 draw with Wolves in the FA Cup, in which the Reds failed to threaten for the majority of the game and were lucky to escape without defeat. The performance was typical of United this season: it lacked creativity and invention with poor service to the forwards.
To round off the first week of 2020, United were beaten thoroughly by their biggest rivals in their own backyard. A first-half demolition had Pep Guardiola’s City 3-0 up at the interval, with United rescuing some hope with a consolation goal in the last 20 minutes.
There’s no denying it was a difficult run of games following a busy period, and a growing injury list hasn’t helped the issue. However, United fans will be most disappointed with the lack of fight they’ve seen from their side.
Where has the energy gone?
Towards the end of 2019, we saw two of United’s best performances under Solskjaer. Wins against Spurs and City showed the capabilities of a side that is so frequently under scrutiny.
The high intensity, free-flowing performances in those matches gave fans a taste of what they’ve been waiting for. That was topped off with a fight and desire that every football fan wants to see from their players.
However, fast forward just one month and with the same group of players, that fight seems to have vanished.
It is no secret that Solskjaer needs to strengthen his squad in January if United are to challenge for top four. The Norwegian has admitted he has the backing of the board to make mid-season signings.
On the other hand, United supporters have been calling for a clear out of deadwood since Ole’s arrival, a process which he has already begun. With this, rumours have begun to circulate over the future of club captain Ashley Young, with reports linking him with a move to Inter Milan.
Why let the club captain leave mid-season?
Given the club’s current situation, it would be foolish to start offloading the few remaining experienced players at the club. Whatever you may think of Young as a player, he has been around for a long time and won a lot of trophies at the highest level.
Surely that is exactly the sort of player that United need to be keeping hold of? Even if he doesn’t feature as part of the starting XI on a regular basis, he is a solid squad player and offers leadership away from the pitch.
To have leaders in the dressing room is crucial for any team looking to win trophies. United have a large pool of talented youngsters, but they need direction. They need a leader to set the tone on the pitch and encourage them during rough times.
This is the sort of player United have been severely lacking at times this season. They have drifted through games with no intensity and nobody setting the example. So it would be a bizarre choice to let Young go, especially mid-season.
Solskjaer wants reinforcements
Speaking to the press after the Manchester Derby, Solskjaer admitted it is ‘not the time to talk about players leaving.’
‘We can’t weaken ourselves, we need to strengthen ourselves, if any movement is going to happen. I don’t know what you’re talking about – you’ve got to ask Ash.’
Solskjaer knows as well as anyone how important it is to have leaders in the dressing room. That is why it seems so unlikely that he will allow Young to leave halfway through an important season.
Nonetheless, if the 34-year-old full-back sees it as one last opportunity to win trophies, Solskjaer may be unable to persuade him to stay.
One thing is certain – United need leaders. Whether or not they decide to let Young leave is yet to be confirmed, but either way they need to recruit players of a similar ilk.
United already have a group of talented youngsters, but in order to challenge for a Champions League spot in the second half of the season, they must sign some experienced heads to give stability and consistency.