Don’t be fooled by Manchester United… Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has tried to develop a siege mentality, but his team are totally unconvincing
- Manchester United got an important win, but it was not particularly convincing
- Everton were awful defensively at Goodison Park as they threw away a lead
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will not be able to rebuild the trust with just one win
Harry Maguire hollered his delight and raised his fists in celebration. On the touchline, the joy of Manchester United’s captain was mirrored by the coaching staff, who swapped hugs and high fives.
A testing week had ended with a result in keeping with United’s traditions — a 3-1 win at an often inhospitable Goodison Park.
It had historical connotations, too, as this seventh consecutive away triumph in the Premier League equalled the best sequence set by Sir Alex Ferguson’s first thrilling champions in 1993.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still has a lot of work to do to get Manchester United in shape this season
There was another nod to the past when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took a leaf out of his old manager’s book and took issue with the scheduling of the lunchtime kick-off, hissing about how everything had been set up for United ‘to fail’ following a draining midweek Champions League trip to Istanbul.
As he tries to plot a way forward, Solskjaer evidently wants to get his squad believing it is them against the world. He saw Ferguson do it time and again and nobody could blame the current manager for wanting to emulate United’s grand master.
The trouble was, none of it was convincing; neither the performance on the pitch that had Maguire screaming, ‘Get in!’, nor the tantrum from Solskjaer that was aimed at the TV companies. He said he’d had concerns for a month about the timing, so why didn’t he raise them publicly then?
The Manchester United players were happy with the win, but it was unconvincing overall
Plenty will be in a hurry to take this success on Merseyside as a sign that United are ready to motor forward and get involved in the race for the top four. As evidence, they will point to the input of Bruno Fernandes — whose two goals turned around a deficit — and cite Maguire’s robust display.
Do not fall into that trap. Everton were wretched. Their defensive efforts left Carlo Ancelotti exasperated and bewildered. They took the lead through a fine Bernard strike but are not playing with the zest of the opening weeks and they gave United their three goals.
‘We have to improve,’ warned Ancelotti, whose side have taken one point from the last 12. ‘This period has been really bad but it is gone. The next period I hope will be better. It has to be better.’
Yet Everton still had ample opportunity to inflict significant damage, so when you watched those United celebrations at the end it was impossible not to think about the coruscating words that Roy Keane unleashed after their 1-0 home defeat by Arsenal six days earlier.
Carlo Ancelotti was left exasperated by Everton’s defensive efforts against Manchester United
‘They react for a few weeks, then they get carried away with themselves and think, “We’re a team now”,’ the former captain said on Sky. ‘I’d love to be sitting here and say they look like a great bunch of lads, but my eyes don’t lie to me.’
Keane has this right. The make-up of Solskjaer’s squad means you wouldn’t trust them if they told you tomorrow was Tuesday. Of course they have some gifted footballers and will win plenty of matches, but would you put your last £20 on them to win their next five League games? No way.
The sequence facing them after the international break is West Brom (home), Southampton (away), West Ham (away), Manchester City (home) and Sheffield United (away). There are also their three remaining Champions League group fixtures.
It is a pivotal sequence and, while the backslapping and congratulating suggest they believe they turned a corner at Goodison Park, what they showed in the 90 minutes that preceded the happy scene was far from compelling. United did not make you feel they are back.
‘If we have this mindset for every single game, we’ll be hard to play against,’ argued Solskjaer. ‘I can’t praise the boys enough for the character that they’ve shown. I didn’t want to do it (talk about the schedule) before the game, as I don’t want to start giving them excuses.’
Excuses? When Ferguson created a siege mentality during Solskjaer’s days as a player, he knew with certainty that nobody in the dressing room would make excuses. He had a squad who would run through brick walls and knew their character could never be called into question.
The very fact Solskjaer said he didn’t want to give this group excuses tells you he still doubts them. Everyone does.
Edinson Cavani got his first goal for Manchester United, but they now need a string of results
The players may have felt pleased with themselves that they had come up with three points — which were clinched by Edinson Cavani’s first United goal — when their manager needed it.
But until they have put a proper sequence of results together, the rest of us will remain sceptical.
You don’t regain trust with one win. You don’t celebrate like you have solved the puzzle after one win, either.
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