News Live Scores
Premier League

Emery's gone, so is Solskjaer now the Premier League's worst manager?

09:00 GMT+3 01/12/2019
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United
Given the Spaniard was sacked by Arsenal on Friday, there is arguably no weaker boss in England's top flight than the under-pressure Norwegian

Manchester United currently find themselves 11th in the Premier League table, sitting behind Tottenham and Arsenal, two sides to have decided upon a change of manager in the past 10 days.

So, should Ole Gunnar Solskjaer be shifting uncomfortably in the Old Trafford hotseat?

The Norwegian is not necessarily the worst manager in the Premier League, but there is little evidence to suggest he is close to any of the best.

He certainly has nothing like the experience or track record of either Unai Emery or Mauricio Pochettino.

Tottenham's squad is definitely better than that at Solskjaer’s disposal. Arsenal’s group is probably as good as United’s but Emery’s players seemed beside themselves with apathy.

For nearly every manager, the question is when the sack will arrive, not if. The timing and prominence of the question are the only two factors ever under debate.

It is a testament to United’s erratic nature that Solskjaer’s future has switched so swiftly from secure to desperate, and back again.

United’s board face a difficult question: how many of the club's current problems are down to Solskjaer’s leadership, and how many can be solved by him?

Looking up the table, at Liverpool, Leicester City, Chelsea and Manchester City, there are at least three managers who have consistently proven themselves as tactically superior to Solskjaer.

United are set up to counterattack, primarily because they generally struggle to break down sides who sit back and absorb pressure. Only recently, and briefly, has that changed. 

The top four have the ability to play both fast and slow, with players whose best qualities have a foundation in technical fleet-footedness.

The pace of thinking is a stark contrast to the ponderous approach that United find themselves stuck in. There have been moderate improvements up front, but they are nullified by a return to defensive weakness.

Frank Lampard has managed to make a better fist of introducing younger players to his first team than Solskjaer. That is partially down to Chelsea's transfer ban but Lampard always intended to rely heavily on youth. What's more, he has done an excellent job of managing so many novices.

Solskjaer, meanwhile, has not fared quite so well. Of course, injuries haven't helped. He has had to use Phil Jones on occasion and his most talented midfielder, Paul Pogba, has been out for much of the season.

Nevertheless, the results that Lampard has overseen are much more impressive than anything Solskjaer has achieved this season. 

There are problems with the mentality of both the players and the manager.

For example, at 3-2 up against Sheffield United, United had their opponents on the ropes and Solskjaer withdrew Anthony Martial for Axel Tuanzebe. It rejigged the tactical formation and took the boot off their opponents’ throats. The comeback was undercut, resulting in a draw that should have been a win.

That’s an easy criticism to make in retrospect, but it is a fair accusation given United are punishingly bad at holding onto a lead, perhaps worse than they are at coming back from a losing position.

Solskjaer used the game at Brammal Lane as evidence that heads did not drop, but similarly it is evidence that the heads remain largely empty.

'Game management' is a horrible phrase, but there is no hard-edged cynicism or resilience about this United side. There is nobody willing to kick and ruin the game in the last 10 minutes. The fault for this ultimately lies with the manager, even if the job is sometimes close to impossible.

It is not just the slow progress that United have made that is worrying. The plan to improve the fitness of the side has come about six months too late.

Changes were clearly needed since the time of Louis van Gaal and the problems were allowed to set in under Jose Mourinho. Only now are there plans to overhaul the physio department. 

There has been an improvement in transfers, in mentality, and plans to make the side more physically durable. All these demonstrate progress, but the way they have been achieved illustrates the difficulty of assessing Solskjaer.

There are so many obviously underwhelming qualities to United that starting to address them is relatively easy, but making the Red Devils an elite side is another matter entirely.

From his time at Cardiff City and the vastly different experience of Norwegian football with Molde, there is no indication that Solskjaer is the man to take United further forward.

Both Spurs and Arsenal ultimately decided that their manager could no longer get their players to put in the requisite effort. For United, they can pin their hopes on the fact that the squad still appear willing play for their manager and for the shirt - at least with more vigour than they have since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. 

There are now two paths forward. If they stick with Solskjaer the sophistication of the side must develop if they are to challenge the top four. If it doesn’t, and the players throw in the towel, then there is even further to drop down the league table.

Solskjaer remains a manager who has everything to prove.