MANCHESTER, England — The Liverpool supporters chanted “Ole Must Stay” towards the end of their brutal 5-0 dismantling of Manchester United and, an hour after his team’s humiliation at the hands of their greatest rivals, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave his Liverpudlian tormentors exactly what they wanted by insisting he is still the man for the job at Old Trafford.
There were no United fans singing Solskjaer’s name during United’s biggest-ever home defeat against Liverpool, though. Solskjaer might believe he can still be a success, but he is beginning to sound like a man raging against a storm that is about to engulf him.
When Jose Mourinho’s United lost 3-1 at Anfield in December 2018, the former Chelsea manager was sacked within 48 hours. That was a bad day at Anfield, but this was much, much worse for United. If Solskjaer survives to take charge of another game, it will be because United cannot find a suitable replacement rather than because of his ability to do the job.
The Glazer family, United’s owners, have always taken time to change their managers since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho were all dismissed months after it became obvious that the team were stuck in a downward spiral. History will be repeating itself if they persist with Solskjaer.
Jurgen Klopp, who rejected the chance to manage United in 2014 following the sacking of Moyes, is a world-class coach with a world-class team. It showed at Old Trafford as Liverpool destroyed United, with Mohamed Salah scoring a hat trick to maintain his incredible run of form.
“The result is insane,” Klopp said. “I asked if there was one like this in history and if there isn’t then it will take a while. The players put a nice piece in the book.”
Liverpool are a team of players who know exactly what they are doing and they consistently execute the coach’s plan to the letter, with recent successes in the Champions League and Premier League a testament to Klopp’s ability to build a winning team.
But Solskjaer, who said after this game that his side have hit a “brick wall” in recent weeks, is drifting from one dismal result to another. And he has now become the subject of ridicule from opposition supporters who mercilessly chanted “Ole, give us a wave” as Liverpool played keep-ball in the closing stages.
For Solskjaer, this was a day when everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Less than 60 seconds after Bruno Fernandes missed a clear chance to open the scoring on four minutes, Liverpool took the lead through Naby Keita following the first display of calamitous defending by his players.
By half-time, it was 4-0 and United’s defending failed to improve, with Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire colliding with each other in a comical attempt to stop Liverpool before Diogo Jota scored the second.
And even after Salah had made it 5-0 early in the second-half, Cristiano Ronaldo saw a consolation goal ruled out for offside by VAR — cue further mocking celebrations by Liverpool’s fans — and substitute Paul Pogba was sent off (again after a VAR review) following a studs-up challenge on Keita.
All of the above could be attributed to individual errors by United’s players, but it happens too often with this team for those mistakes to be a coincidence. Top teams don’t make the same errors, over and over again, but under Solskjaer, United appear stuck in a loop of miserable incompetence, with just one clean sheet in their last 21 games.
United have lost five of their last nine games in all competitions and collected just one point from 12 in the Premier League. They have won three times in that run — a 2-1 victory at West Ham following a stoppage-time penalty miss by the home side, a 2-1 win against Villarreal with a Cristiano Ronaldo goal five minutes into added time and Wednesday’s 3-2 win against Atalanta, when United trailed 2-0 at half-time following a disastrous start to the game.
When United win, they only seem to do so in a chaotic manner, and it’s the same when they lose.
But according to Solskjaer, who has now been in charge for just short of three years, his team is on the brink of reaching its destination — whatever that is.
“I have come too far, we have come too far as a group and we are too close to give up now,” he said, when asked if he has any doubts over his suitability for the job. “I do believe in myself and I am close to getting what we want at this club.”
Time will tell. United’s £135 million spending spree on Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Ronaldo has done little to better the side, and it is difficult to pinpoint a single player who has improved under Solskjaer.
Under Klopp, you can point to several Liverpool players who have developed into world-class performers. Salah is the obvious example.
But the Glazers still believe that Solskjaer is the man, and so does the man himself, but if he remains in charge for the games ahead, it is difficult to see where a win is coming from. Next up are away games at Tottenham and Atalanta. The next home game? Just the small matter of neighbours, and champions, Manchester City.
So things could get a lot worse before they start to get better for Manchester United.