EPL TALK: Solskjaer sacking reveals Man United's deep-rooted problems

·6 min read
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer waves to the fans after their 1-4 Premier League defeat by Watford.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer waves to the fans after their 1-4 Premier League defeat by Watford. (PHOTO: John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

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:

Little long-term planning amid Red Devils' management

WHAT HAPPENED: The plug has finally, mercifully been pulled on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's doomed tenure as Manchester United manager, as the Norwegian was sacked on Sunday (21 November) following a wretched 1-4 away defeat by struggling Watford on Saturday.

It is a sad sight to see the one-time fan favourite being reduced to waving apologetically at the jeering United fans after the humiliating loss. It was plainly evident that the relationship has become toxic, as Solskjaer seemed unable to stem the tide of embarrassing capitulations by his players - starting from that 0-5 hammering by Liverpool at Old Trafford, to the one-sided 0-2 defeat by Manchester City, and finally culminating in this battering by relegation-threatened Watford.

Solskjaer wore an increasingly haunted look with each loss, as if he could not understand why his players were so abject. Yet it was clear from the onset of this terrible run that the United players have probably tuned out to someone whom they deemed not to have the requisite know-how to challenge for the EPL title against formidable rival managers such as Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel.

Yet, the fact that the ex-United striker was allowed to bumble along is also a damning indiction on the United board of directors, who were exceedingly reluctant to fire a "nice-guy" manager who was accommodative to their own failings in the player-transfer market. 

There appears to be little long-time planning when signing United players in the past few years, as yawning weaknesses in the squad were rarely addressed and luxury signings such as Cristiano Ronaldo were approved, with little or no resistance from Solskjaer.

Experienced ex-managers Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, who understood the level of expertise required to sign top players, had publicly voiced their displeasure at poor recruitments and soured their relationships with the board, leading to their eventual dismissals. No wonder the directors were loathe to let Solskjaer go and risk another battle with a hard-nosed manager.

Yet, a miserable total of four points from seven league matches in the past two months meant that Man United are slipping further and further away from the lucrative Champions League qualifying spots, and that has finally forced the board to end Solskjaer's three-year tenure. 

And now it is another cycle of searching and hiring a new manager, then the manager taking a season or two to instil another playing philosophy among the Red Devils. Another round of squad upheavals will ensue, and then more massive investment needed to sign the players the new manager wants. 

It does seem that Man United are stuck in this constant cycle, unable to find the right combination of manager and players to return them to their glorious heights in the 1990s and 2000s under Alex Ferguson.

Like what happened with Solskjaer, former United midfielder Michael Carrick has been put in charge for the next few games, as they look to hire an interim manager until the end of the season. All eyes are on Carrick in the thankless job of steading the sinking ship, and then all eyes will be on the board of directors: will they be tempted to give Carrick a permanent contract if he is successful - just like what they did with Solskjaer?

WHAT'S NEXT: Carrick has little time to settle in, with two major away matches coming up this week. First up is a trip to Spanish side Villarreal in the Champions League on Tuesday, then it is a crunch clash with EPL leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Both are tough ties that could further demoralise the team, and perhaps force the board of directors' hand to seek out a top-class manager to try his hand at emulating Ferguson.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp (with cap) clashes with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta (black top).
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp (with cap) clashes with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta (black top). (PHOTO: Action Images via Reuters/Phil Noble)

Widening gulf between 'Big Three' and rest of league

WHAT HAPPENED: For much of the first half at Anfield on Saturday, Arsenal looked the part as a team unbeaten in their last eight league matches. They looked comfortable in holding Liverpool at bay, frustrating the home side who were anxious to return to winning ways after losing to West Ham in their previous league match.

Then came a moment of madness, not from any player on the pitch, but from the two managers. First Jurgen Klopp loudly complained that the Arsenal bench were trying to get Sadio Mane booked after a robust challenge on Takehiro Tomiyasu. Then Mikel Arteta completely lost it, furiously shouting at Klopp, and the two managers had to be held back before the spat could get any more heated. 

Yet, after the flashpoint, a fired-up home crowd spurred Liverpool to assert their superiority in a scintillating 4-0 victory. The Reds looked back to their best as they pressed and harried the youthful Gunners into submission, and ensured they stayed within touching distance of Chelsea atop the league table.

It has become increasingly clear that Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City have created a separate "Big Three" tier over other top EPL clubs such as Arsenal, Man United and Tottenham. Even though Arsenal were buoyed by their recent fine form, and were only two points away from Liverpool before Saturday's match, the chasm in team quality was evident when the Reds stepped up a gear after the managers' spat.

It is a similar story in Chelsea's routine-like 3-0 win over Leicester City, a team that finished fifth last season but being made to look ordinary by the Blues machine. Ditto Man City's comfortable dispatching of Everton by the same scoreline on Sunday.

Certainly having astute managers who instil distinct playing philosophies into each team has made the Big Three stand out. Other teams can only watch with envy at these well-oiled machines who execute their bosses' instructions to a tee in recent seasons.

With Chelsea fast improving under Tuchel, the three-horse race for this season's title should be intense - which is good news for the fans, who certainly didn't unsavoury touchline antics to ruin their enjoyment of these superb teams.

WHAT'S NEXT: Arsenal will hope to rebound from this chastening loss when they host newly-rich but bottom-placed Newcastle United on Saturday. Liverpool, meanwhile, will hope to continue keeping pace at the top of the table when they host Southampton, also on Saturday.

Chelsea will host Man United on Sunday, while Leicester will welcome back their former manager Claudio Ranieri when Watford pay a visit to King Power Stadium on the same day. Man City will host high-flying West Ham, while Everton travel to play Brentford, with both matches also on Sunday.

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