The yin and yang of Manchester United in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era, and especially under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, continues.
Beat Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, two of the best teams in the world; fail to win any of the opening four home league games. Go ten games away games with straight wins, including at Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG and Leicester. Fail to win in six home league games.
United’s fortunes go in an out like the tide. A few victories and the young team is praised for its attacking flair, for its improvement and knitting together. The talent is clearly there. Lose a few and criticism flies with justification. League titles are won by consistent teams and United haven’t been close since 2013.
Sign a player like Bruno Fernandes, as United did in January, and the team is transformed going unbeaten in 17 matches, but United have since lost six of their last 17 since that run ended in the FA Cup semi final, including four of the eleven games so far this season.
The tide is well and truly out this week after two insipid defeats in four days at home to Arsenal and away to Istanbul Basaksehir – hardly world-beaters themselves.
Support for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from the so far patient United fans is eroding.
The Norwegian will have been in the job for two years next month, but his side remain wildly inconsistent.
Fans have been supportive and Solskjaer has appreciated that, just as his predecessors David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho did, but with no fans inside stadiums it is harder to gauge that support in the seething online morass of invective and despair.
There has been no appetite for sacking Solskjaer within the club itself. United are trying to ride out the weekly roller coaster of their support’s emotions, but the pressure grows.
Little appetite for a fifth permanent manager since Ferguson stepped down since 2013, but heavy pressure is applied by a non-stop news cycle where Mauricio Pochettino is what Mourinho was in 2016, the top level out of work manager saying the right things and smiling at potential suitors.
He’d be the favourite if Ed Woodward sacks his fourth manager, but for now United want to stick with the Norwegian. To be as patient as Martin Edwards was with Ferguson, build a solid base while knowing there will be ups and down along the way. Yet at the same time, Solskjaer is in a job which requires results and there has to be minimum requirements. United are one of the three biggest football clubs in the world after all.
Few United fans expected to win the Premier League this season, but nor did they expected to see their team 15th in the table with seven points from six games. It’s a surprising as Barcelona’s eight points from six.
There are echoes of last season when United had 11 points after eight matches and won only four of their first 14 league games. A repeat won’t be stomached by fans.
Fans expected to see continued improvements with a maturing team supplemented by the manager’s signings in his four transfer windows so far, but what they have been presented with is clearly not sufficient.
In mitigation, United had four full days of pre-season training against the usual 26, but that home league form isn’t excused by it. Other clubs have had more serious injuries or missed more players to Covid, yet only Burnley have picked up less than United’s one point at home – though even they have played a game less. No team has a worse home goal difference than United’s at -8.
United’s next game is at Everton early on Saturday before a two week international break. When Solskjaer has time to prepare his team, he usually does it well, but he has to work quickly for Saturday – and he needs to get a result at Goodison to pick the mood up off the floor.