Manchester United’s initial bounce following the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems an awfully long time ago, with that Champions League comeback win against Paris Saint-Germain in March providing the platform for Rio Ferdinand to produce a quote that looks ever increasingly foolish in hindsight.
“Man United might not thank me, but get the contract out, put it on the table, let him sign it, let him write whatever numbers he wants to put on there — given what he’s done since he’s come in — and let him sign the contract and go,” he said.
“Ole’s at the wheel, man — he’s doing his thing. Man United are back!”
The circumstance of that victory may give strong reason for the club’s former defender to proclaim such statements in excitable fashion, but it has proven to be a false dawn as Manchester United continue to struggle and stutter in the 10 months since that night in the French capital.
Familiar flaws continue to be exposed in a squad lacking any real depth of quality or balance, Solskjaer’s side already five points adrift in the race to secure Champions League football after six Premier League defeats already this season.
Far from the results, however, it is performances that are the fans major concern, a series of abject showings lacking any resemblance to the identity the club created during their dominance of English football throughout the nineties and 2000’s.
We’ve decided to look back at some of the most harrowing performances the club have produced this term, here are five of Solskjaer’s Manchester United’s most embarrassing defeats so far this season.
Manchester United 1-2 Crystal Palace – Premier League, August 24, 2019
Having begun the new season with a thrashing of Chelsea at Old Trafford before earning a point from a difficult encounter at Wolves, United would host Crystal Palace towards the end of the league’s opening month full of optimism.
Despite dominating possession Solskjaer’s side would struggle to break down Roy Hodgson’s organised outfit and would fall behind to a simple route one goal from Jordan Ayew, with Marcus Rashford missing the chance to equalise from the penalty spot in the second half.
Daniel James’ 89th minute leveller seemed to be keeping in the traditions of the great United sides who snatched results late on, though the current side instead contrived to somehow to lose, Patrick van Aanholt stunning the hosts with a stoppage-time winner for Palace.
Despite mustering 22 efforts on goal United would manage a paltry three on target, whilst David de Gea’s mistake for the Eagles’ winner was the latest indication that the Spaniard’s aura has vanished in recent times.
West Ham 2-0 Manchester United – Premier League, September 22, 2019
‘Flat’ was the word used by Solskjaer to described his side’s performance at the London Stadium, United suffering defeat at West Ham for the second successive campaign courtesy of goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Aaron Cresswell.
It was the hosts who produced the two real moments of genuine quality, extending United’s winless run away from home to nine fixtures in all competitions, whilst their run without an away clean sheet stretched to 11 games.
The Hammers would manage twice as many efforts on target as their lacklustre visitors, one again highlighting United’s lack of creativity and inability to fashion chances, though Solskjaer would typically remain ‘positive’ – a feeling we would hear more of as the season has progressed.
Bournemouth 1-0 ManchesterUnited – Premier League, November 2, 2019
Solskjaer’s side had shown signs of progress following their indifferent start to the season, winning three successive games in all competitions ahead of a trip to a Bournemouth side winless in five and without a goal in their past three fixtures.
What would happen, however, would be the latest reality check for a United side lacking the quality to challenge.
On a blustery day on the South Coast, United struggled to get to grips with the hosts and it would prove to be some slack defending that allowed a former Old Trafford youngster to seal victory for Eddie Howe’s Cherries.
Whist Josh King’s improvised finish drew praise, questions should be asked of the defending that allowed the forward such time, in particular, the timid efforts of summer signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
At the other end chances were once more at a premium, United suffering their third away defeat in four fixtures – failing to score in each of those losses.
Watford 2-0 Manchester United – Premier League, December 22, 2019
The club’s worst showing of the season?
Unimaginative, passive, ponderous and lacking any form fight, United were dismantled at Vicarage Road by a Watford side rooted to the foot of the Premier League table.
David de Gea’s howler saw Solskjaer’s side fall behind, before a rash lunge from Wan-Bissaka allowed Troy Deeney to double the Hornets’ lead from the penalty spot.
United’s best football this season has come on the counter-attack against teams who dominate possession, the Red Devils short of ideas when faced with a well drilled and organised defensive outfit. Defeat at Watford continued a remarkable record – United having won just ONE of their previous 17 matches in which they had dominated possession. (3-1 victory v Norwich in October).
Their midfield options in particular have struggled in the heat of battle on more than one occasion, whilst a lack of genuine leadership has been apparent – none more so than in this insipid defeat to Nigel Pearson’s relegation-threatened side.
The defeat also continued United’s poor record against teams in the bottom three, three of the club’s past six league defeats coming against sides beginning the day in the drop zone.
Manchester United 1-3 Manchester City – Carabao Cup semi-final first leg, January 7, 2019
Outclassed and overwhelmed, United would suffer a derby disaster in the last four of a major competition to begin the new year in the worst possible style.
The power has shifted significantly in Manchester over the course of the past decade, but the way United capitulated against their once ‘noisy neighbours’ is likely to haunt the loyal Old Trafford faithful.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side simply had too much quality, running riot as goals from Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and an Andreas Pereira own goal put the visitors firmly in control of the tie. Solskjaer could only look on in horror as the huge gulf in class between the two sides became abundantly apparent, United conceding three goals at home in the first half for the first time since 1997.
Nemanja Matic’s half-time introduction for Jesse Lingard restored some balance as Marcus Rashford pulled one back in the second half, but by then the damage of Solskjaer’s tactical naivety in playing a midfield three of Lingard, Pereira and Fred had already been exposed in some style.
If ever there was an indicator of the work needed to be done at all levels to restore United back to former glories, this was it – a clash that many viewed as men against boys.