Heartbreaking defeat for Solskjaer highlights lack of depth at United
Heartbreaking Europa League defeat for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer simply highlights the lack of depth in Manchester United’s ranks
- Manchester United crashed out of the Europa League with a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla
- The Old Trafford side were wasteful with their chances and paid for their misses
- Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s quality would always win-out in the end
- Ferguson took the magic with him on his retirement and Solskjaer has work to do
The Manchester United side that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played for would have won this game by the hour.
When United used to come to play with such a depth of attacking riches that Sir Alex Ferguson simply could not find room for them all, possession would inevitably lead to chances and on the back of that would come goals.
At times it looked simple but it wasn’t. It was part of Ferguson’s genius to regenerate his teams and, with hindsight, perhaps no surprise that when he disappeared from office in 2013, he took the magic formula with him.
Manchester United fell out of the Europa League with a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla on Sunday
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were wasteful with their chances and were stunned late-on
Solskjaer knows that the Old Trafford side are not the finished article and have work to do
This United side – for all its vast recent improvement – is some way short of all that. Here the failure to score when dominant eventually hurt them.
Had they converted one of a flurry of opportunities in a period of play they dominated just after half-time, they would have now been preparing for an appearance in the final.
As it is, Solskjaer’s team have lost three semis this calendar year and that, as much as anything, tells us exactly where they stand in the grand scheme of things.
Better but still not good enough.
Solskjaer, at least, knows all this.
United were weak in defence, undermining their ferocious attacking power in Cologne
‘We are not the finished article,’ said the United manager before this game.
United should be heartened by that shot of realism, even in defeat. Ferguson was followed by three managers – David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho – who by varying degrees were not good enough.
To this day, each of them remain in denial. Solskjaer, a calm and rational man, is rarely likely to be. He is cut from United cloth and, as such, instinctively know what is required.
The Norwegian played two decades ago at a time when United set the standards for others to aspire to. These days they are chasing the elite at home and in Europe and nights like this merely represent another step on that journey.
Killjoy or realist? Maybe Solskjaer is just a little bit of both. If so, it is not the worst combination.
Luuk de Jong scored the winner for Sevilla, ending United’s long season in disappointment
Even before this game in Cologne, the really serious bit of United’s season had been done. A third place finish in the Premier League had already secured them a place in the Champions League next season.
That is a significant and important achievement. This – a tilt at the ‘other’ European trophy available every year – really was just bonus ball stuff.
United would like to have won it, for sure. An experience of playing in big European finals cannot be bought. It would have been invaluable for players like Mason Greenwood and Aaron Wan Bissaka.
But, in the grand scheme of things, it would not have taught Solskjaer anything new.
With that in mind, nothing he saw here against a decent Spanish side would have surprised him at all. This was a night when we witnessed some of the best of the new United and also some of the worst.
Mason Greenwood and United’s attack looked set to dominate but couldn’t control the game
Solskjaer’s squad is not deep enough, for example. It is probably four very good players short. A goalkeeper, a central defender, a centre forward and a more mobile holding player would be a good start. Here, when United needed to chase the game, Solksjaer sent on Juan Mata and Daniel James.
It didn’t change a thing and we should not have expected it to. James is talented but needs work while Mata belongs to the pedestrian days of United’s recent past.
Equally, United concede too many poor goals and the second one here was a case in point. Seville didn’t have to do enough to score it and the manner in which Luuk de Jong eased in to the six-yard box should trouble Victor Lindelof and Wan Bissaka all the way home.
On the flip side, some of United’s work with the ball was excellent and forthright and this is the change Solskjaer has wrought. As recently as last winter, United were a team that just didn’t create chances.
Bruno Fernandes’ penalty looked set to continue United’s impressive end-of-season form
Back in the days when Mata and Scott McTominay were considered crucial to the team’s fortunes, Solskjaer’s side would move forwards with all the purpose and initiative of a tortoise.
Now that is different and we saw that here. United were bright early on and deserved their lead. They responded well to the setback of a Seville equaliser, too, and for the first ten or fifteen minutes of the second period they threatened to run all over the Spanish team.
This was where the game got away from United. The front three of Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial were firing at this time and only fine goalkeeping from Seville goalkeeper Bono kept his team on dry land.
The defeat highlighted once more than United must step-up their Jadon Sancho chase
Sometimes in a game things just don’t go your way and this was certainly the case here. However, United’s fire burned out far too quickly.
Once the momentum of that period wasn’t fuelled further by a goal, Seville were able to find a way back in to the contest and it is the Spanish team that will now seek their sixth Europa League triumph while United must plan for a new season that begins in September and will test their resources like no other.
Seville will not be expected to contest the La Liga title any time soon. For United, it is different and one imagines Solskjaer knows exactly how far along that road they are.
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