A dark cloud has firmly parked itself over Old Trafford in recent months, particularly over the home dugout.
Manchester United are off the pace domestically, getting outclassed in Europe and dumped out of the Carabao Cup.
One man is being blamed for the bulk of that – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Now into his third season at the helm, there is an expectation that United should be pushing for honours as they look to end a trophy drought that dates back to 2017.
On this season’s evidence there is little to suggest they are on an upward curve, in fact quite the opposite is happening.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane all arrived in the summer but haven’t had the desired affect, despite the Portuguese star coming up with big goals.
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Recent defeats to their rivals has highlighted the gulf that currently exists.
A squad that were tipped as outside title contenders are now having their top four credentials questioned.
Solskjaer’s position is now under heavy scrutiny and with a defeat before the international break, the gloomy mood has certainly set in.
United return to action with three away games in a week and any major defeats could be defining, with those in and around the red half of Manchester expecting a response.
After giving his players and staff a week off, Mirror Football now looks at what Solskjaer needs to do to reverse United’s slump and strengthen his own position.
Settle on a system
It goes from a 4-2-3-1 to five at the back to Paul Pogba playing in the central midfield role he seems incapable of performing in Manchester.
They all have their benefits and drawbacks, but switching between them all on a monthly basis is doing nobody any good.
Defensively United haven’t been good enough, clean sheets are a rarity, which therefore places more onus on the attack. A we’ll score more than you type of approach, which is fundamentally flawed.
There is a determination to get the best from Ronaldo but eventually the question needs to be asked – at what cost?
Marcus Rashford’s return gives Solskjaer yet more attacking weapons and keeping his players fresh whilst continuing to shuffle the pack is paramount.
Yes continuity is key but, as Pep Guardiola shows at City, if the structure is correct and regularly worked on players can come in and out of the starting XI.
It means the likes of Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and the squad players can all contribute.
Up the other end, for now at least, the two defensive anchors appears a must, despite the pressure to move away from it.
Several players have been tried in those positions but a pair with similar defensive minds need to be employed to help the backline.
Rally his warriors
Managers need players they can lean on when times get tough. Solskjaer’s had his go-to’s in recent years, but they seem to be wavering.
If he is to see out this difficult period he will need them onside and positively affecting the group.
Ronaldo storming down the tunnel cannot be tolerated. Fernandes digging out his teammates, somehow lauded once upon a time, needs to be far more constructive.
The playmaker has not hit his previous heights this term and negatively gesturing to your team-mates when 5-0 down to Liverpool is not in any way helpful.
Harry Maguire, currently trying to stave off the “embarrassing” Roy Keane criticism that came his way, needs to step up.
Wearing the armband is not easy, but public apologies after losses do not appear to be rubbing with those who comment on them, like Gary Neville. Luke Shaw too has gone off the boil following an excellent year.
Whether it’s a meeting at training or several arms around the shoulder, it is now paramount that Solskjaer gets the message across to his players that there can be no more slip ups.
Do away with the ‘Man Utd’ way
The narrative of having a United man at the helm has taken Solskjaer a long way and, with some, continues to keep him in the plus.
But how has that served him so far on the pitch?
Against the likes of Everton, Aston Villa and Liverpool the Red Devils have attempted to play in the expansive, free-flowing way the club is synonymous with.
They dropped points in all of those games and the pressure, especially against Liverpool, was palpable.
Against Tottenham Solskjaer named a team as defensive as he ever as.
They picked up the three points and the lows that were felt for the previous week were alleviated.
Moral of the story – results, results, results.
Neville said after that game: “There is no doubt this is not Ole’s plan. Leaving Sancho, Greenwood and Rashford on the bench is not the plan.”
However, if United can get through this season, picking up some impressive scalps, finishing in the top four, going deep in Europe and they do so in a somewhat uninspiring manner, make no mistake, Solskjaer will remain firmly in a job.
Playing a great brand of football is what everyone aspires to do. No doubt the Old Trafford crowd looked on enviously in the Manchester derby.
That said, they won’t have been complaining back in March when they won 2-0 at the Etihad with 34 per cent possession – why? Because they won.
Take a stance
As ever with defeats, decisions get amplified.
Solskjaer’s selection calls for example, they don’t matter so much when you’re still managing to pick up three points.
As ever it’s the players that get left out, not those that are selected, that attract the most attention. But with some managers, you know exactly where they sit on certain individuals.
That cannot be said with Solskjaer.
Every time United drop points the questions of why Donny van de Beek or Jesse Lingard haven’t played gets thrown his way.
The answer is clear, the Norwegian thinks he has better options and doesn’t see why he would bring them in when he needs results. Otherwise he would play them.
But to come out and say that squad players without a start this season have a “big role to play” is simply counter productive.
Sir Alex Ferguson got plenty of signings wrong, but he didn’t dwell or attempt to make them work. They were moved on.
So having players sat, seemingly frustrated, on the bench is of no benefit to them, the squad or the manager.
It creates more problems and, right now, Solskjaer has enough on his plate without having to deal publicly in the politics of Carrington selection.
Get the most out of his backroom staff
This has been a major issue for a lot of those looking on.
Sam Allardyce said recently: “Your staff need to be right on top of their game. We get all the criticism and all the praise as managers, but if you haven’t got the right staff… the success I had, I couldn’t have done it without my staff.
“Ole can only get through it with his staff and then by putting the players on the right track. You need your staff need to be right on top of their game.”
Paul Ince went one step further and told The United Stand : “You’ve got an under-23 coach come up from the academy. He’s got Michael Carrick… no coaching experience. Micky Phelan…I don’t know what he does. That’s his team.
“Look at that staff. This is the staff that Ole says is ‘very good, brilliant…’ it’s a load of b******* because they are conceding goals for fun.”
The perception is that for Solskjaer to hire an experienced head he would have to axe a current member.
That doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, but even Fergie was open to bringing world class coaches into his set-up to good effect – something that would be worth Solskjaer’s consideration.
And right now, with results and performances the way they are, he needs all the help he can get.