EPL TALK: Can Man United pick up the pieces after Liverpool humiliation?

·7 min read
Manchester United's Norwegian manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) and Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp look on during their English Premier League match.
Manchester United's Norwegian manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) and Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp look on during their English Premier League match. (PHOTO: Oli Scarff/AFP)

SINGAPORE — How have your favourite English Premier League (EPL) teams performed over the past week? Yahoo News Singapore looks at the key talking points surrounding the league in this weekly review:

Out-of-his-depth Solskjaer is not the only problem amid Man Utd

WHAT HAPPENED: Just how will Manchester United sift through that horrific train wreck of the 0-5 thrashing at Old Trafford by gleeful arch-rivals Liverpool?

The loudest and most obvious call for change is of course to sack manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Norwegian is a club legend with his sensational scoring exploits as a player, but as a manager, he is clearly out of his depth against the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel.

Where those three managers of United's title rivals have clear philosophies, strategies and long-term planning, Solskjaer often resembles a deer in the headlights against top-tier sides - frozen with uncertainty, with no clear direction as to how he intends to bring the Red Devils to title-challenging standards.

In truth, what do the club's hierarchy expect from a manager whose previous EPL track record was a season of relegation with Cardiff City?

Yes, Solskjaer understands the club's traditions and values from top to bottom. To his immense credit, he has stabilised the United ship which had been sinking under the negativity brought by previous manager Jose Mourinho, and brought a feel-good atmosphere throughout the club.

But giving him a permanent contract and then asking him to mould a side to challenge Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea - arguably three of the finest teams in the world currently - on the basis of that flimsy CV? It is borderline ludicrous.

Besides this humiliation by their fiercest rivals, Solskjaer has also presided over last season's Champions League group-stage exit; a 1-6 battering by Mourinho's Tottenham Hotspur; and that shock Europa League final loss to Villarreal. This loss, though, seems like a new nadir.

He remains defiant on his position after Sunday's rout, muttering that "we have come too far as a group, we are too close to give up now", even while admitting the United have reached "rock bottom".

It is a sign of a manager desperately clutching at straws, just like he had fared against top sides.

But even if United are thinking about replacing Solskjaer, two lingering questions remain: Can the United hierarchy be trusted to find the most suitable candidate after several poor hirings? And can any new manager be able to turn things around so dramatically as to propel United right into title contention?

Neither questions have clear-cut answers now. Fan forums may be tossing around replacement candidates such as Zinedine Zidane, Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri, but any new boss will have a lot of problems to sift through - an unbalanced and demoralised squad, spiralling wages, and dated coaching setups, to name a few.

And after a sequence of poor managerial hirings after Alex Ferguson's retirement - David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Mourinho and Solskjaer - fans' trust on the United board to land the perfect manager is unsurprisingly as low as their morale right now.

This Liverpool defeat is the latest evidence that the United directors have little clue on how to return to their glory days. Their signing of old favourite Cristiano Ronaldo when the team badly needed central midfielders is symptomatic of their haphazard approach to building a cohesive team, much like their hiring of Solskjaer.

In many ways, Man United are mirroring what Liverpool did in the 1990s, when the Merseyside club fell from the top of their perch due to complacency that their tried-and-tested methods in their dominant 1980s would continue to work. As much as Solskjaer is a comfortable throwback to United's dominance in the 1990s and 2000s, the blunt truth offered is that they are currently miles behind Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.

United are now mired at seventh in the standings, already eight points behind leaders Chelsea, and level on points with Arsenal - whose manager Mikel Arteta also endured calls for him to go after opening the season with three bad defeats.

Can Solskjaer - an honest man that does not deserve such constant humiliation - emulate Arteta and somehow turn this embarrassment into progress? If he survives this current calls for his sacking, then the next few matches could prove pivotal.

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool shoots past Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea to complete his hat trick during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford.
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool shoots past Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea to complete his hat trick during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford. (PHOTO: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Reds look back to their best following failed title defence last season

Meanwhile, plaudits must also go to Liverpool, in particular their irrepressible star Mohamed Salah, who became the first opposition player to score a hat-trick at Old Trafford in the Premier League.

This best-ever victory at their fierce rivals' "Theatre of Dreams" confirmed once and for all that last season's failed league title defence was largely due to their unprecedented injury crisis in the middle of the season. That crisis, which saw all their first-team defenders out with long-term injuries, curdled their high-tempo pressing style to such an extent that they lost six straight home games.

Belief had been drained away, before a late-season recovery salvaged Champions League qualification. Yet the Reds resisted wholesale changes amid quiet summer transfer window, with manager Jurgen Klopp adamant that improvement will come with players back from injuries and the Reds having a full month of pre-season preparations.

His assertions were proven right as Liverpool stay unbeaten this season, and having already played Man United, Man City and Chelsea, the Reds have a comfortable stretch of games coming up. It could be prove vital, as they are set to lose their African players - Salah included - to the African Cup of Nations in January, and need to accumulate as many points as possible to put themselves in a good position for the late-season stretch.

Until then, the EPL should enjoy the exploits of Salah, who is breaking club and league records at a furious pace. He is now the top-scoring African player in the EPL, eclipsing Didier Drogba's record of 104 goals with his treble at Old Trafford.

Is he currently the world's best player? It is difficult to find another player with such deadliness and exuberance right now; with all due respect to Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski, the Pole striker is more about clinical efficiency rather than an inspirational game-changer like Salah.

The entire Liverpool team should also be lauded for their diligence and intelligence in carving apart their rivals away from home. This is the eighth straight away game in which they have scored three or more goals, proof that they are back to their swashbuckling best.

Can they last the distance in the title battle with Man City and Chelsea? One thing is for certain: it would not be for the lack of talent or form.

WHAT'S NEXT: Man United's next five EPL matches will be against Tottenham, Man City, Watford, Chelsea and Arsenal. Man City and Chelsea will be tough to beat in the best of times, but if the Red Devils cannot beat Spurs, Watford and Arsenal, no amount of sympathy could rescue hapless Solskjaer. It could get even worse.

Meanwhile, Liverpool's next five EPL matches are against Brighton, West Ham, Arsenal, Southampton and Everton. Each match will have its own unique challenge, but on current form, the Reds should view this as a stretch for them to pile on the points.

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