Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has finally recognised Manchester United’s problems – but can he fix them?

United’s miserable form continued with a defeat away to Newcastle

Man United: Just how bad is their start to the season?

The good news is that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now accepts there is a problem. Previously, the Manchester United manager had met each lifeless performance and disappointing result on this run of form with an unreasonably optimistic outlook.

He declared himself “pleased” with the goalless draw in Den Haag last Thursday, in which United failed to register a shot on target. There were “lessons to learn” from the stalemate with third-tier Rochdale at Old Trafford. He was “very positive” despite the defeat at West Ham. In public, at least.

And yet on Sunday, even he could find little to smile about. After losing 1-0 at second-bottom Newcastle United, thereby failing to win an 11th straight away game and extending the club’s worst start to a season in 30 years, he could not pretend there was any silver lining.

“[The defeat is] very symptomatic of where we are at the moment,” Solskjaer said, despite for weeks speaking of improvements the rest of us must have missed. To be fair, he then hit the nail on the head. “We don't create enough chances to deserve to win a game of football. That's the short version.”

There was more. “First half, I couldn't see that one coming before the game. It was such a disappointing performance first half,” Solskjaer added. “We couldn’t control it, it was like a hot potato, bouncing off our feet. The second half was better, but you could still see a couple of counter-attacks coming before the goal.

“At the moment, when there is a decision to be made they don't do it instinctively. That affects everyone.” This was a much more contrite version of Solskjaer than we have witnessed recently. He even apologised to fans and suggested a top-six finish would be difficult to achieve.

The United manager has rarely been so critical of his players’ performances and so downcast on the team’s prospects. This is not pessimism, though. It is a healthy dose of realism, as well as a long-awaited recognition that results simply have not been good enough.

The only comparable press conference Solskjaer has given during his time at United came back in April, after a woeful 4-0 reverse at Goodison Park, when he sent a warning to some of those who had turned out for United that day. “I am going to be successful here,” he promised. “There are players there who won’t be part of that successful team.”

Interestingly, he made a reference to that day in the wake of the Newcastle defeat. “This is not a similar situation to when I was sat here after Everton last year, when I felt people had given up and they don’t give what they have for the shirt,” he insisted. “These boys give everything they’ve got for the shirt.”

But only three members of that 18-man squad at Goodison Park – Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Chris Smalling – have left the club, and only Lukaku has left permanently. Ten of the 18 were still in Solskjaer’s match day squad on Sunday. The remaining five are still at the club, and most of them would have featured at St James’ Park if not for injury.

Perhaps Lukaku, Sanchez and Smalling were the only ones Solskjaer had an issue with back in April. Coming into the new campaign, perhaps he felt that the problems experienced at the tail end of last season were in the past. Perhaps, but it seems more likely that few players Solskjaer targeted that day are still at the club.

United look just as bad now as they did back in April, if not worse. The job is arguably the most challenging in elite world football. Better-qualified managers would struggle and fail. Some already have. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, at least, and Solskjaer finally did that on Sunday. Whether he has the ability to fix it is another question entirely.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in