Manchester United face Watford in the Premier League on Saturday – and the match could prove the moment of truth for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has big decisions to make.
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains employed by Manchester United, but his situation is dangerous.
United’s hierarchy has made it clear lately that they don’t want to sack Solskjaer, but if results continue in the current downward trajectory, then they won’t have any choice.
Rather than being the restoration process, as it was proclaimed, the international rupture weakened Solskjaer’s position even more with speculation about his future abundant.
The appointment of Antonio Conte at Tottenham was undeniably a boost for the Norwegian, who could well cling to his job as there are no viable alternatives.
It is this background that makes Saturday’s Premier League match against Watford absolutely crucial for the United boss. He needs a result – and it has to be convincing.
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After Liverpool’s 5-0 thrashing, United pulled off a 3-0 win over Tottenham; Claudio Ranieri’s erratic Watford side must provide a similar short-term remedy for the team’s illnesses.
Of course, there are many barriers in the way of such an outcome. Anyone who has seen any of United’s recent games will know the prevailing themes of their failure.
They are detached out of possession, passive in it, careless in their own box and surprisingly too dependent on Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal-scoring genius.
Solskjaer has tried to address these fundamental problems in the past three games by changing from his usual 4-2-3-1 formation to a more cautious 3-4-1-2 system, but it didn’t make much of a difference, with the Spurs win followed. with a last-gasp Ronaldo equalizer in a 2-2 draw against Atalanta and an embarrassingly one-sided 2-0 defeat by Manchester City.
What could make a difference is to do something that the Norwegian seems hesitant to try: make wholesale changes.
Despite United’s wave form, Solskjaer has been reluctant to turn his side much in recent months. And that approach has alienated those who are forced to sit on the bench each game and watch the chaotic drama unfold.
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According to The Telegraph, several players are becoming “increasingly frustrated” by Solskjaer’s favoritism. Many stayed at United in the summer after receiving assurances of playing time, only to find themselves frozen after the football started.
United’s cast of unhappy faces has become a familiar sight in recent games on the bench: Donny van de Beek, Jesse Lingard, Alex Telles, Anthony Martial, Diogo Dalot, Juan Mata and Dean Henderson.
While the change in lineup benefited Eric Bailly, it did not throw a lifeline to any of the aforementioned players.
However, if Solskjaer wants to save his job, the Watford match offers him a perfect opportunity to shake things up and recapture the rebel edges of his squad.
Among others, Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, Fred and Victor Lindelof are all currently away on international duty.
Saturday’s game offers the perfect excuse to turn his side and hand start to the frustrated bench residents. This would pacify them and also send a message to the first team regulars that bad performances have consequences.
Shaw, Fernandes and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been very much under the pair lately and need to know that they are facing competition for their places. Telles, Van de Beek and Dalot can provide that.
Ronaldo is 36 years old and has played 90 minutes in both of Portugal’s disappointing World Cup qualifiers against Ireland and Serbia.
It may seem like a heresy – and he will almost certainly hold a grudge – but the fact is that he can be used by the substitutes. United has a range of other options that can be filled.
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Interest is high for Solskjaer, who knows that if a bold election call fails, he will leave himself open to even more criticism.
But the reality is that he has to take some risks. His loyalty to insufficient players damages the team and there is a time when things came to a head.
If he has to go down, then he can also go down swinging.