When the Sky commentators confirmed that VAR was looking for an infringement in the build-up to Luke Shaw’s handball in the box against West Ham, you knew that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United were in big trouble.
It was only a matter of days since United had returned from Switzerland after a disappointing loss against the Young Boys in the Champions League and then, in the match against West Ham, they had an onrushing Mark Noble galloping from the bench to take the penalty that Martin Atkinson had finally awarded.
It looked, for all the money in the world, that it would finish 2-2 at the London Stadium, but Noble’s tame effort meant a disastrous result in London was avoided after David de Gea was saved from the spot. A jubilant Solskjaer ran onto the pitch at full-time and looked like the cat that had got the cream. How the narrative changed after De Gea went the right way and Solskjaer was spared any blushes after potential back-to-back defeats.
Here it is – 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 penalty…😳— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) September 19, 2021
Thoughts on the decision to bring Mark Noble on to take #WHUFC‘s penalty? 😬
The Norwegian would later say in his post-match press conference that it was always “the outcome that decides the headline.” It was a surreal moment and you got the feeling that Solskjaer was genuinely trying to make a point about how he was the victim of knee-jerk reactions following games in the past. Indeed, there was a smugness to the 48-year-old as he eyed the press in the room and the words hung in the air.
It was a strange point to make when you consider that United only held a slender lead over West Ham and, had they been further in front, a late penalty shot wouldn’t have mattered. The bottom line is that Solskjaer’s team weren’t further ahead because they were never in control of the game.
It was a similar case in Bern against Young Boys during their 2-1 reverse. During that occasion, United’s tactics in Europe were open for justified scrutiny, especially after last year’s group stage elimination from the competition.
Yes, Solskjaer may have won himself a bit of breathing space thanks to Noble’s lethargic penalty, but he’s not making the point that he thinks he’s making by saying that a win means no one will have the grounds to criticise his tactics. On the contrary, his statement leaves one reflecting on all the time big-name players at the club have pulled United out of the fire with solo brilliance.
In reality, very seldom have we been in awe of the 48-year-old’s tactical genius, that’s not to say we haven’t seen it, but more often than not it’s down to the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, and now recently, Cristiano Ronaldo.
It’s disappointment for Man Utd, as Young Boys snatch it late in Switzerland!— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) September 14, 2021
Jesse Lingard makes a costly error and Jordan Siebatcheu nips in to apply the finish and send the home crowd wild! ⚽#UCL pic.twitter.com/vZimQoMaIz
If that seems unfair, consider then for a second that despite being top of the league, United are still at long odds of 11/2 according to the Premier League outright betting odds to win the title. This suggests that United’s big game players will only be able to take the club so far before they’re outfoxed by an opposing manager.
In conclusion, nobody’s saying that Solskjaer can’t learn on the job and eventually take Manchester United to the Premier League title.
That said, and with such a lack of clarity on the field in terms of strategy, it does seem a bit rich that he preaches the downfalls of football being a results business when that’s the only thing keeping him in a job.