Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is quick to remind people that it’s traditional for Manchester United to make things difficult for themselves. Sooner or later, the problem will catch up with you. In Leipzig on Tuesday evening, United ended the Champions League season.
Solskjaer’s team needed a draw only to advance to the knockout stages, were two goals behind in the first quarter of the hour and conceded a third goal after the break. The usual comeback was dramatic but to no avail. Defeat 3-2 means the European League will come.
Four times in a row now in all competitions, United conceded the first goal. Five of their six Premier League wins came this way, including those remarkable away victories over Southampton and West Ham in recent weeks.
Spirit can be praised, talent in running it amazed. But it is not a long-term solution. It is not a strategy. It’s not something to build on, and it’s the progress Solskjaer often talks about. Not when the team returns to their slow ways in the next game.
The feeling with United is that it is their singular moments of brilliance that attract them. This was the anxiety expressed by Patrice Evra about playing the match against Leipzig.
“I just don’t want them to depend on their individuality because that’s what they’re doing lately, and they always have to come back after getting off,” he said. Sky Sports. “Let’s focus on the team. If you want to be in the top four and pass the group stage, then you need a team performance. Individualism will save you some matches but don’t depend too much on it. In other words, this defeat was quite predictable.”
No doubt it was those concerns about the latest performances that prompted Solshire to switch tactics for this match. He could have picked the diamond midfield that helped United win 5–0 over these rivals in the German Bundesliga at Old Trafford in October.
Instead, it was the comeback of the three defenders, not seen since the victory over Paris Saint-Germain earlier that month. This was the starting lineup for some of Solshire’s biggest matches, including, unsuccessfully, in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea in the summer.
Was that a slow start factor?
Harry Maguire said: “We changed form after losing 2-0 and looked more comfortable, but I don’t want to make excuses.”
Some will point to Paul Pogba’s controversy on the eve of the match. Comments from his agent Mino Raiola moves in order to turn away It wasn’t the perfect build for a match of this magnitude and the fallout could be compounded behind the scenes in the defeat.
But Pogba was hardly guilty here. In fact, against West Ham at the weekend, he took an active part in the comeback – this time scoring the second goal after coming off the bench.
Individuals are not the problem. It is more substantial. It is a lack of coherence and the absence of an idea. There is no consistency but how can there be when everything is in flux?
There were double changes in the first half against Southampton and West Ham, another one here. In fact, the only game out of the last four in which United did not make a change at the break was against Paris Saint-Germain when they should have definitely done so, but instead they let Fred walk his way towards a red card.
It’s a sign of a side that’s always pushing around.
United are still looking for that rhythm. Reacts. He encourages players who still want to respond. It’s a matter of concern that they are unable to enforce their own playing patterns.
These are the extraordinary requirements of the schedule, there isn’t enough time to address these issues on the training ground, let alone indulge in disappointment. Manchester City visit Old Trafford on Saturday and the atmosphere could get worse with another defeat.
You’ll need to be another repair job, change and other repair. Find a tactic to smother him and hope to bring in another big hit to convince fans the better path may be.
Sometimes it works and everyone is able to laugh. This is Manchester United. We do things the hard way. And sometimes it doesn’t work. And you wonder if it really needs to be so hard.