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His weaknesses, player doubts & the alternatives – is Solskjaer on the brink at Man Utd?


Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has overseen a 6-1 loss to Tottenham and now a 5-0 defeat by Liverpool since October 2020

Manchester United’s embarrassing 5-0 home defeat by Liverpool at Old Trafford has been followed by an avalanche of criticism towards manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Many fans believe the Norwegian should be sacked immediately after the worst home defeat to their biggest rivals, a result eclipsed only by a 7-1 defeat at Liverpool in 1895, when the club was still known as Newton Heath.

Former players have said Solskjaer has got to go and although Gary Neville has said he would not call for the dismissal of his former team-mate and friend, the former United skipper did not hold back in his condemnation of an awful performance.

So far, United have been silent.

Here, BBC Sport looks at what is going on at Old Trafford.

Could Solskjaer be sacked?

Until someone from United says otherwise, yes. David Moyes and Jose Mourinho were both dismissed after Sunday afternoon defeats. In Moyes’ case, it was a 2-0 defeat at Everton, which meant the club could not finish in the top four. For Mourinho, a 3-1 reverse at Liverpool proved to be his last game in charge.

In both instances, their dismissal did not come until the Tuesday.

United officials have said for months that Solskjaer is taking the club in the right direction. The Norwegian was given a new three-year contract in the summer. His assistant, Mike Phelan, was given one earlier this month and talks have been continuing with coaches Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna.

It is clear any decision to remove Solskjaer would only be taken after a lot of thought and not as a knee-jerk reaction.

That said, the sheer magnitude of the Liverpool defeat demands serious questions being asked of Solskjaer and his staff, and especially because United have now taken one point from their last four games – and have three difficult games against Tottenham away, Manchester City and Chelsea, plus Watford, to play in their next four.

Solskjaer described the loss as his darkest day as United manager, but vowed to carry on despite the extra pressure the result puts on him. The club is seventh in the Premier League with 14 points from nine games – already eight points behind leaders Chelsea.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward talks to the Glazer family almost every day. Managing director Richard Arnold, expected to replace Woodward when he leaves at the end of this year, also has regular communication with the club’s owners.

It is inconceivable the manager’s on-going future has not been part of those regular discussions. That does not necessarily mean Sunday’s humiliating result will lead to them sacking him though.

What do the players think?

BBC Sport understands an increasing number of players are starting to lose faith in Solskjaer. They don’t trust his tactics and feel he is out of his depth compared to managers at the bigger clubs, namely Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel.

This could be viewed as players trying to absolve themselves from responsibility over a collective mess. However, numerous ex-players have also condemned Solskjaer for the way his team performed against Liverpool, for both their individual and half-hearted approach to pressing Klopp’s side and their inability or unwillingness to track runners.

After the victory against Atalanta on Wednesday – when they were 2-0 down at half time – former United midfielder Paul Scholes said he feared for what would happen against Liverpool if his old club played in a similar way.

They did, with exactly the same starting line-up, and the outcome was embarrassing.

Players in a team coached by Guardiola, Klopp or Tuchel would not get away with the lack of energy or discipline shown by United against Liverpool or last week at Leicester City, the narrative goes.

One visible difference between the coaches is their relative presence in the technical area. While the Spaniard and the two Germans are an almost constant pitchside presence during matches – with other coaches rarely offering instruction – United tend to rotate their staff to impart advice.

That said, it was noticeable that Solskjaer – who doesn’t take training sessions – was more visible against Liverpool than is usually the case.

What is beyond doubt is that whatever tactics and patterns of play Solskjaer wants his team to use, his players have been unwilling or unable to carry them out – with the Liverpool thrashing the culmination of a season of modest United performances.

What are the options?

Clearly, the easiest decision would be to leave Solskjaer where he is. Many fans feel that is unacceptable but United stuck by Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho long after many thought they should have been dispensed with.

However, the scale of the Liverpool defeat may encourage United’s hierarchy to act more decisively.

That would however create another obvious problem for them to solve. When Moyes and Mourinho left in mid-season, United turned to a celebrated old boy to steady the ship, first Ryan Giggs – who was part of the coaching team already – and then Solskjaer, who was called in from Norway, where he was in charge of Molde.

The idea of replacing Solskjaer with a United legend as an interim – even if one could be found who was willing to take over from, potentially, a popular former team-mate – does not seem to fit.

There are two high-profile potential candidates out of work in former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte and ex-Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane.

Conte would seem at odds with United’s long-term approach and his feisty personality may not appeal to the club’s hierarchy, but his Serie A title success in Italy last season with Inter Milan proves he retains an ability to win major prizes.

Zidane won every honour in the game at Real, but there is uncertainty over the amount of hands-on coaching he did and, with the likes of Klopp and Guardiola lauded for their improvement of players, United may feel they want to match their rivals with a new appointment.

The Frenchman also has no experience of the Premier League and does not speak English – although Leeds’ Marcelo Bielsa has proved that is not a barrier to success.

Beyond that, Ajax’s Eric ten Hag refused to leave mid-season when the vacancy at Bayern Munich arose in 2019, while it is not known how seriously United would consider another manager in the ascendancy in Leicester City’s Brendan Rodgers, given his Liverpool connection.

It may be that a lack of an attractive available replacement may count in favour of Solskjaer being given time to make up for his “darkest day” against Liverpool.

Manchester United's next few fixtures
Manchester United have a tricky run of fixtures coming up

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