Inconsistent playing squad letting Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer down
Woeful form continued with Wednesday's 2-0 loss in the Manchester derby
Win their last three games and Manchester City will be the first team to successfully defend their Premier League title since Manchester United a decade ago.
A superior – vastly superior in the second half - City beat United 2-0 at Old Trafford to go top of the league and move a colossal 25 points clear of their neighbours who remain in sixth.
City have won 11 successive league games and they have won six of the last eight derby games at Old Trafford.
Pep Guardiola has won all three league derbies at the club he described as “the most prestigious team in England in the last 20 or 30 years”.
That team, Manchester United, have lost seven of their nine games and the two teams who lost deserved more.
It is the worst record since 1962 when the club were still rebuilding after the Munich air crash. It’s a shocking one for a club of their standing.
They have also not scored a goal in almost five hours of football. They have not scored a goal from open play in almost nine hours of football.
• Richard Jolly: Manchester United are a team that has lost its soul
United did not have a single shot on target at home to Barcelona and took 85 minutes to have a shot in the 4-0 debacle at Everton on Sunday. Their players are failing their manager.
At the other end, United have conceded 50 goals so far this season, their worst record in the top flight since 1979. There are even more bad statistics.
The one surprising statistic about Wednesday's loss was that it happened to be United’s first 2-0 defeat at home in the Premier League era which United long dominated.
This is a club with the second highest wage bill in world football, one so fractured that the best paid player Alexis Sanchez was only a late second-half substitute, while the £75 million (Dh355.5m) striker Romelu Lukaku started on the bench alongside the supposedly prodigious talent that is occasionally Anthony Martial.
The majority of United players are so hideously inconsistent that it is difficult to think of one who merits player of the season – not that any of them merit being in the individual short lists for the Premier League.
The cost of the two teams was almost identical, yet City were technically and tactically better than a United side who started well enough but could not compete with City’s class in the second period.
The failings of others means United are somehow not out of finishing in the top four and playing Uefa Champions League football next season, but this team looks so far from being champions that they might be better off not being in it.
“I think for now we need to just forget about all that (Champions League football) and get back to how we were playing when the manager first came in,” Marcus Rashford told MUTV after the defeat.
Rashford is one of several forwards who has stopped scoring.
“It’s nothing to do with ability because we have the players to do it," he added. "It’s just about the attitude and willingness to do it. We have a good template of when it was good; we have to get back to that as soon as possible. Otherwise there’s no point speaking about top four or Champions League next season.”
Jesse Lingard, playing in a forward role, had two good chances which went begging.
“We create chances but we don’t take them,” said Solskjaer. “It’s something we need to improve on.”
The Norwegian speaks well and intends to do even better, but he’ll be judged by results and his team is so far away from the best that it has become embarrassing to United fans.
“City have set the standard,” said Solskjaer. “They’re the best team in the country. Clearly we’re not there now. But that’s why I’m in the job to get closer to them.”
Guardiola was proud of how his City side performed. “The second half was so good the way we played,” he said.
“Now we have to go to Burnley which has been incredibly tough in my two seasons. But we are fortunate that it (the title) is in our hands.”
Ilkay Gundogan changed the game for City, Bernardo Silva, playing a more central role, showed the excellence which has made him a contender for footballer of the year. He scored the first goal after 54 minutes, squeezing the ball low past the out of form David de Gea. Leroy Sane scored the second goal 12 minutes later as City turned the screw.
City fans came alive, teasing United fans and telling them to go home now they had seen the champions. For years, they played a distant second fiddle to United. The gap was as wide as two divisions.
Roy Keane described some United players as ‘bluffers’ for their lack of effort.
“I value his opinion,” offered Solskjaer of his former teammate. United miss a player of Keane’s class, drive and passion for the club which seems lacking in some of the incumbents.
United fans will always celebrate the past, but the present is deeply concerning to them. They have little faith in what direction the club is taking, from the tired stadium they play in to the American owners and the recruitment structure at the club which has seen so many signings flop.
United can sign them – and reward underperforming players with lengthy new contracts - because they remain a hugely successful commercial entity, but the football should matter most and United haven't mounted a single title challenge in the six seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down.
They hoped for a brighter future under Solskjaer but the initial excellent form under the Norwegian baffles when set against the present.
At the very least he deserves time to try and right the deficiencies which see United so far from the top. And, as we saw against City, there are many.
Updated: April 25, 2019 01:54 PM