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Remembering five of the most significant defeats of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United reign

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time is up at Manchester United, the Norwegian given the sack just a few months into the new season having overseen a run of one win in seven in the league to all but end any hopes of a title challenge.

Despite gruelling home defeats to both Liverpool and Manchester City prior to the November international break, the straw that broke the camel’s back proved to be a shambolic 4-1 loss to newly-promoted Watford at Vicarage Road, a result that left the club legend’s position untenable.


The 48-year-old departs the club having steadied the ship after a turbulent period in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and enjoyed some notable highs in his three-year stint – having taken charge in December 2018 on an initial interim basis.

That being said, he also walks away having failed to win a major trophy nor transform the club into title contenders despite a hefty backing in the transfer market, with his reign also littered with some notable low points.

Here’s a look at the five of the most significant defeats throughout his tenure:

Sevilla 2-1 Manchester United

Europa League semi-final, 16 August 2020

Solskjaer may look back on his United tenure as a case of missed opportunities, with his side so often having crumbled when it mattered on the biggest stage, as they struggled to ever overcome that hurdle of winning a major trophy.

After suffering defeats in the last four of the Carabao Cup and FA Cup to Manchester City and Chelsea, respectively, in the 2019/20 campaign – his first full season in charge – the Europa League offered a final shot at silverware, with Manchester United taking on Sevilla in Cologne in a one-legged semi-final.

Having largely breezed their way through the competition, the Red Devils were left needing extra-time – and a Bruno Fernandes penalty – to steer them past FC Copenhagen in the quarter-finals, as they made a stuttering start to the pandemic-impacted, last-eight mini tournament in Germany.

Another Fernandes spot-kick – the club’s 22nd of the season – handed United the lead in the semi’s, before the La Liga side struck back through former Liverpool man Suso, with the opposition stopper Yassine Bounou in inspired form to repel the Premier League giants.

Almost inevitably after missing a succession of chances, Solskjaer’s men were undone with just under 15 minutes to play as substitute Luuk De Jong fired his side ahead, with no real fightback emerging from United as the Norwegian waited until the 87th minute to make a change.

While he had little in the way of options – the likes of Daniel James, Juan Mata and Odion Ighalo eventually entering the fray – the manager’s questionable substitution decisions would go on to be a theme of his tenure.

RB Leipzig 3-2 Manchester United

Champions League, 8 December 2020

A few months on and United were in need of just a point away at RB Leipzig to secure qualification to the Champions League knockout stages, before suffering a first-half implosion to send them heading once more for Europe’s second-tier competition.

It had initially been a fine start to the group stage with a deserved 2-1 away win against PSG, followed by a thumping 5-0 thrashing of Leipzig at Old Trafford, yet a dismal matchday three would seemingly derail Solskjaer’s men, as they slipped to an embarrassing 2-1 away defeat to tournament debutants, Istanbul Basaksehir.

The sight of an ageing Demba Ba ‘racing’ clear after some schoolboy defending from the visitors will live long in the memory for United supporters, although they did at least exact revenge with a 4-1 win in the reverse fixture at the Theatre of Dreams.

A defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in the penultimate match left the Red Devils needing a draw in the final round of fixtures to qualify, although two goals in the opening 13 minutes quickly changed the outlook, as Solskjaer’s decision to deploy a pragmatic back-five spectacularly backfired.

A third from Justin Kluivert appeared to kill off any hope for the visitors, before a Fernandes penalty and an Ibrahima Konate own goal sparked a frantic final few minutes, as United looked to complete yet another comeback in the Solskjaer reign.

If it weren’t for a vital intervention from Peter Gulasci they may well have snatched that much-needed point, although as it was, they crashed out with a whimper, the match having been typical of the Solskjaer era – a shoddy first-half display followed by a gung-ho, caution to the wind late attempted fightback.

Villarreal 1-1 Manchester United (11-10 pens)

Europa League final, 26 May 2021

That exit from the Champions League plunged the Old Trafford outfit back into the Europa League, with a relatively pristine knockout stage run seeing Solskjaer’s men surge to the final, where they were met by Villarreal and the competition’s serial-winner, Unai Emery.

After finishing an albeit distant second to rivals City in the Premier League, United were the unsurprising heavy favourites to run out winners in Gdansk, as they looked to finally end their four-year wait for a trophy – their last piece of silverware having come in the competition under Jose Mourinho.

In a match devoid of quality, Gerard Moreno capitalised on some typically shaky United defending to put the Spanish side ahead, before veteran striker Edinson Cavani netted on the rebound just after half-time to drag his side level.

Much like the defeat to Sevilla a year earlier, Solskjaer again came under fire for his reluctance to make changes as the game ebbed into extra-time, the Norwegian waiting until the 100th minute to make his first switch, while notably refusing to withdraw Marcus Rashford despite the Englishman looking distinctly off the pace.

With little sign of a winner, the game headed to what would be a mammoth penalty shootout, Emery’s men eventually winning 11-10 with David De Gea’s miss – the only one in the shootout – ultimately proving decisive.

Manchester United 0-5 Liverpool

Premier League, 24 October 2021

The lowest ebb came just last month, however, as United were brutally dismantled at home by bitter rivals Liverpool, the defeat signifying the stark gulf in class between the two sides and sparking the beginning of the end for Solskjaer.

Heading into the match the hosts were on something of a high after an entertaining second-half comeback in the Champions League at Old Trafford against Atalanta, although – as club legend Paul Scholes prophesied – the warning signs were there with the Red Devils’ having been particularly leaky in the weeks prior.

Few, however, could have quite predicted the capitulation that would ensue as United shipped four inside the opening 45 minutes, with Mo Salah adding a fifth – and his third – just after the break to become the first opposition player to score a hat-trick at the Theatre of Dreams in the Premier League era.

The first chance of the match had in fact fallen to United – who remained a threat in attack throughout – yet Bruno Fernandes could only blaze his effort over the bar, before the visitors exposed some collectively dire defending to edge ahead and then ruthlessly put the game out of sight.

A second-half red card for half-time substitute Paul Pogba made matters even worse heading into the final half-hour, albeit with the away side taking their foot off the gas almost in an act of pity to spare their opponents any further misery.

Manchester United 0-2 Manchester City

Premier League, 06 November 2021

Even in defeat, there had at least been some level of fight shown by the United players against Klopp’s men, although it was an altogether different story against Manchester City as they limply surrendered to the champions just two weeks later.

Again the Red Devils squandered an early chance as Harry Maguire headed wide, although that proved to be a rare foray forward as they spent much of the remainder of the match camped in their own half, fearful of being subjected to another mauling on home soil.

Following the Liverpool debacle, Solskjaer had earned himself some breathing room after overseeing a comfortable 3-0 win away at Tottenham Hotspur, the decision to deploy a back five paying off as they overpowered their beleaguered hosts.

Faced with an altogether more dangerous opponent in City, however, the choice of formation quickly came undone, as the home side struggled get up the pitch and failed to alleviate their alarming defensive issues as they were overrun in midfield.

A typically rash own goal from Eric Bailly had gifted Pep Guardiola’s side an early lead, before a sucker punch second on the stroke of half-time from Bernardo Silva seemingly squashed any hope of a fightback, as United offered little in the way of an attacking threat in the second-half.

While not quite as devastating a scoreline as the Liverpool match, the manner of the defeat was equally as dire, albeit with it taking another embarrassing defeat at the hands of Watford to eventually spark the club’s hierarchy into action.

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