It is fair to say that Manchester United have not had the best of times in recent years, seeing a fall in performance since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. For United fans, it has been a tough few years, and the 2019/20 season has been no different.
Heading towards Christmas, Manchester United sit 8th in the Premier League table, tied for points with Newcastle, and having won just 6 games from 18 so far this season.
Salt in the Wounds
Even more painfully for United fans, their arch rivals Liverpool sit at the top of the table, having not lost a game so far this season and looking like they might finally win the Premier League after coming close last year. Fans of both sides have enjoyed exchanging “banter” since the dawn of time, but it’s Manchester United fans that are now having to take the stick.
Taking Nothing for Granted
The Red Devils will take on Newcastle United in a Boxing Day fixture in which they are one of the top teams at 87/10, according to the main oddsmakers. Traditionally, this should be a game that Manchester United could be confident of winning, but based on this season’s performance, nothing is certain.
The performance in early December against Aston Villa which saw them scrape a 2-2 draw illustrates this perfectly. Villa were promoted into the Premier League at the start of the season and are currently at risk of being relegated again, along with Norwich City and Watford.
Later in the month they also only managed to draw 1-1 with Everton, a team that sits 15th in the table after losing 9 of their 18 games this season. Worse still, they lost 2-0 to Watford just days before Christmas, despite beating Manchester City 2-1 a couple of weeks earlier.
Things have gotten slightly better for United in the last few weeks. They’ve climbed up the table, starting it in 11th place but currently sitting 8th. They also had less than half of the points accumulated by Liverpool, but they’ve closed that gap too.
Are Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Days Numbered?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was given the permanent role as manager at Manchester United after a stirring win against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League in March. Solskjaer, a former United player, was seen celebrating the victory with Sir Alex Ferguson and Eric Cantona.
Things change fast in football though, and a string of poor performances will put any manager’s position in jeopardy. So far, Manchester United bosses have reassured Solskjaer that they have his full support and that they are giving him time to rebuild the team.
This is likely a sensible approach since any period of change takes time to enact and new managers often need time to get the right players and for the team to adjust to their way of working.
However, it has been reported that Solskjaer is privately concerned he may be given the boot if United cannot finish in the top 6 this season. Things haven’t looked great all season, but having moved from 11th to 8th could be a sign that the team’s plight is about to end.
Lost the Magic?
Paul McGrath, a former Manchester United defender, recently commented on their performance, stating he had “figured out what is wrong” with them.
His epiphany was not a strategic or tactical issue, or one about their lineup. Instead, he said that teams that used to play Manchester United were scared to face them, often accepting that going away with a small loss would be a favourable outcome.
McGrath says that this magic has now been lost and that teams no longer experience fear when going up against United.
In reality, this loss of magic is likely down to a downward trend in the team’s performance over recent months and years. It is self-perpetuating too. The less well United do, the less teams will be expecting to lose. The less they expect to lose, the more likely they are to perform well.
It’s not a single issue affecting Manchester United, but multiple problems have caused them to have a poor season so far. There is a small glimmer of hope, but the upcoming games will either confirm or destroy any optimism fans currently have.