Why Manchester United's bad form is good for their long-term health
Background image: André Zahn, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE
It’s fair to say that things haven’t gone well for Manchester United since beating Paris Saint-Germain. That stunning and surprise victory in the French capital was the highlight of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign so far, but has proven to be something of a curse...
Since that night, they’ve lost seven of their last nine games. It’s a run that’s seen them exit the FA Cup to Wolves, lose four straight away games for the first time in 20 years and be dumped from the Champions League in humiliating fashion at the hands of Barcelona.
The result at the Nou Camp was arguably United’s worst under Solskjaer. A far superior side outclassed them. The 3-0 loss ensured they lost by an aggregate of four or more goals in a two-legged European tie for the first time in their history.
Solskjaer is still picking up the records but now; they’re not the kind of ones he wants. The last month and a half has been a testing time. Some are even going as far as to question if it was the right decision to hire the Norwegian permanently.
While Solskjaer and the United fan base are focusing on the negatives, of which there are plenty at present, this poor run of form is actually a positive. Primarily, it has shown that this squad needs a major overhaul this summer.
The defeat in the Nou Camp showed how far United are away from the top, particularly in terms of playing squad. They need at least three defenders, two centre backs and a right-back, the latter a position that has long been neglected. You can also add a central midfielder, a winger and even a striker to that list.
In fact, the whole squad needs updating from top to bottom. United no longer have the quality in depth. They certainly don’t when compared to their rivals. Look at both Manchester sides and you see the difference. Whereas Pep Guardiola can call upon numerous quality options, Solskjaer has little to choose from.
The current squad at his disposal is a bad mix of three previous regimes. The decks need clearing, replacing and given a fresh lick of paint. That, of course, will take serious investment. This run of form should have convinced those higher up to open their chequebooks to do so.
While United’s executives may be focused on improving commercial deals, it’s time they spent decent money to improve the squad. While their rivals such as Manchester City and Liverpool have spent big money developing their teams beyond recognition, United have rested on their laurels. They’ve spent money, sure, but nowhere near enough to keep up with the development of the rest of the league.
That has to change this summer, and this run of form proves it. This is a rebuild that needs hundreds of millions and several seasons of serious backing to get right. It cannot be one year of big spending and then nothing as it has been in the past. Recent results will have convinced them to do so. It’s Solskjaer’s job to make them aware of what he needs and trust that they deliver. Fortunately, this run has allowed him to assess the squad. Not only the quality of the players but the extent of the problems that they have. Their initial winning run under his leadership created a false sense of safety.
United were not only in good form, but they were also in title-winning form. It suggested that this group was good enough and that should be the aim next season. It allowed them to apportion more blame to Jose Mourinho and suggest that their issues this year were down to the Portuguese boss not getting the best from what he had at his disposal.
This downturn in form, though, has shown what United actually are. They’ve reverted to their norm and confirmed they are actually a top-six team at best. Not only that, it’s shown there’s a significant mentality issue that needs to be addressed. If this is a squad that can so quickly down tools for a manager they don’t like, and then pick them up so emphatically for someone they do, it’s not good for the future.
It’s always better to make an assessment in diversity than when things are rosy. Solskjaer is being shown the real character of this squad and getting an actual evaluation of what’s at his disposal.
The lousy patch has also helped fix the mentality at the club. The players were getting ahead of themselves before this. They believed they were better than they were, and so did the supporters. Now expectations are the level they should be.
It’s released some of the pressure ahead of next season and taught everyone that this revival will not be as easy as it seemed it would be. That’s healthy; it will allow Solskjaer and his team the time and patience they need to do the job right.
Of course, it’s never nice to lose. Particularly when, at this late stage of the season, every point is crucial to United’s top four hopes. Yet, losing in the short-term will ensure that Manchester United start winning again in the long-term.