Ole Gunnar Solskjaer enjoyed his best season yet since taking charge of Manchester United. With undeniable progress in the league and an Europa League final, the Nowergian will feel he is so close to achieving something with the club.
However, yesterday’s defeat to Unai Emery exposed his lack of ruthlessness (once again), as he froze like always at the crucial moments. The timidity of the performance in the club’s biggest match of the season promotes the incredulity of the Anti-Ole sect that he is the right man for the job.
Two shots on target in 120 minutes of an European final only echoes those damning points against Ole. His reluctance to make changes when things were not clearly working makes him as much to blame, as the players on the pitch.
Penalty shoot-outs are like buying a lottery ticket and hoping for the best. The team shouldn’t have found themselves in that situation and Ole has to take the blame for it. Manchester United’s bench in the final did not scream game changers, but taking off a Mason Greenwood that looked the liveliest of the front three showed a lack of game reading on Ole’s part. How Marcus Rashford lasted for the entire 120 minutes is one question only Ole could probably give an answer to. As the English forward struggled to impact the game.
While Villareal should get all the accolades for remaining compact, Manchester United’s passiveness in possession made it a seemingly easy task for the Yellow Submarines. The lack of urgency from the team’s midfield meant that the duo of Parejo and Capoue found it easy to protect the spaces in front of the defence. Scott McTominay looked to instil some urgency in this regard after half time, but he was often left alone to it. The only time the entire team looked to raise the tempo was after Cavani’s equalizer, and the wave died almost immediately.
Of course, the defeat was not all on the manager. The team’s best players like Bruno, Pogba and Rashford failed to show up. The lack of a leader at the back was also evident as Moreno found a way to tuck in Parejo’s free kick. Harry Maguire’s absence proved pivotal, as Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof reminded everyone that they are not leaders at the back. Although they both have their qualities, the duo lacked the voice and leadership to hold everything together at the back.
Back to the manager. Losing five semifinals and one final doesn’t win him more admirers. What it clearly shows is a lack of ruthlessness and ability to go all the way. While Jose Mourinho had his issues at the club, he showed ruthlessness when it mattered most.
Finishing sixth, third and second in the league might show a project that is slowly growing. However, a club like Manchester United are not used to getting so close, yet so far away. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shown that he doesn’t have the fire to go all the way.