Five targets for Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after signing new deal

Manager needs to deliver a trophy and close in on Manchester City

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer started off as caretaker and has now been in charge of Manchester United for longer than anyone since Sir Alex Ferguson.

If he sees out the three-year contract he signed on Saturday, then only Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby will have spent more time as United manager since World War 2. That longevity comes with a chance to complete a turnaround.

Win a trophy

United have gone four years without silverware. Solskjaer got closer last season, losing a Europa League final penalty shootout when David de Gea could not score from 12 yards against Villarreal, but he has been a nearly man, losing four semi-finals and two quarter-finals.

Ferguson is proof one trophy can lead to others but while Solskjaer has a fine record in other big games and against elite opponents, he has lost a series of knockout ties, sometimes when United were favourites. He needs to flourish in the major occasions.

Mount a proper title challenge

12th May 1996; Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and Eric Cantona with the FA Cup and Premiership trophy on their arrival at Manchester's Victoria station. Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill/ALLSPORT

Only three United managers have ever won the league: Ernest Mangnall, Busby and Ferguson. More pertinently, none have really challenged for the title since the Scot’s 2013 retirement. Indeed, they have only got back-to-back top-four finishes once; until Solskjaer, they tended to relapse every other season.

Jose Mourinho finished second in 2018, as Solskjaer did last season, but they were 19 and 12 points behind Manchester City respectively. The first step is to get close to the eventual winners; but, as Chelsea and Liverpool ought to fare better in the Premier League than last season, United may start as fourth favourites.

Find a Plan B

Solskjaer’s counter-attacking gameplan can work very well, especially away from home and against top teams. When the onus is on them, however, United need to be better. They have only won 19 of their last 38 home league games. They can draw 0-0 too often. They feel too reliant on individual inspiration. They have a growing group of potential match-winners but could do with more of a collective strategy to unlock well-drilled defences.

Build on the Sancho signing

Jadon Sancho’s £73 million arrival from Borussia Dortmund looks both a coup and a statement of intent. It also conformed to two themes of Solskjaer’s management: looking to young, exciting and often English players and buying big to secure players who can be cornerstones of the side for years.

In that respect, Sancho can be bracketed with Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The next target is Raphael Varane to give Maguire a high-class partner who is an upgrade on Victor Lindelof. There are two possible objectives for next summer: a central midfielder altogether superior to Fred and a striker to replace Edinson Cavani if he leaves. But Sancho’s signing should allow Mason Greenwood to operate more in the middle; at some stage, Solskjaer must determine if he is the long-term first-choice centre forward.

Decide on Pogba and De Gea

Solskjaer’s diplomatic skills have come in handy as he has navigated his way through difficult situations. His man-management of Paul Pogba has been far better than Mourinho’s. Decisions beckon, however. Pogba is entering the final year of his contract and Paris Saint-Germain are interested. United risk losing their record signing for nothing.

“There is always speculation,” Solskjaer smiled on Saturday. “Whenever Paul has been here, he has been so professional and he’s always ready to give everything for the team. He might stay for even longer.”

De Gea, meanwhile, ended last season in a job-share with Dean Henderson, playing in the Europa League games. That is not a sustainable situation, though the Spaniard’s high wages will make it hard to offload him if Henderson is the regular.

Updated: July 26th 2021, 2:24 AM
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