We will get to Man United, but first…
The streak…is over
You have surely seen by now, but just in case: the hushed rumours are indeed true. Mark Lawrenson has predicted Liverpool to lose.
‘Liverpool are going into this round of fixtures on top of the table so there is no suggestion they are struggling – it is just they are not at their very best at the moment,’ he tells BBC Sport, fearing for their makeshift defence (which has conceded one goal from open play in five games).
Thus their 159-match unbeaten run is over. Lawrenson had last predicted a Liverpool defeat on the final day of the 2015/16 season, when they drew with West Brom. They have lost 16 actual games since then, but none in Lawrenson’s world. Until now.
2020 really is f**ked up.
The Gaal of it
Mediawatch appreciates the attempt from Neil Custis to drive home a narrative in his column for The Sun. And the fact he doesn’t weirdly repeat himself at any stage.
His wider point is that ‘the omens for a trip to Merseyside have not been good for Man United managers of late,’ thus Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should be concerned as he prepares to visit Everton.
They were the last team David Moyes faced in charge, while Jose Mourinho was sacked after losing to Liverpool. Fair enough. But how does Louis van Gaal, replaced after beating Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final, fit in?
‘A 2-0 Europa League defeat by Liverpool on March 10, 2016, convinced the Man United board a change had to be made at the end of the season.’
Losing the first leg of a Europa League knockout round ‘convinced’ the board to sack a manager who was five points off third place in the Premier League and still perfectly capable of winning the tie at the time? Bit weird.
‘Yes, they won the FA Cup and even if they had attained a top-four finish as well, LVG’s fate was already decided on the back of that result.’
Then why did you write in your story on Van Gaal’s sacking that ‘once it was impossible to finish in the top four his position became untenable’? There was no mention of a first-leg Europa League defeat deciding his fate then? Did you not realise four years later you’d have to pretend visiting Liverpool is treacherous for every Man United manager under pressure?
Custis spends much of the rest of that article offering a half-arsed defence of Solskjaer. It is not nearly as committed as his ‘Solskjaer knows the club, he knows the fans, he is part of the DNA and, again, he is heading in the right direction’ in September, but still.
‘The question is whether 47-year-old Solskjaer is failing?’
Or, more pertinently, whether he is succeeding. Which he is not. Yet apparently ‘if the board are judging him over a decent length of time and thinking long-term, which is what Man United still claim they want to do, then he is safe’.
Well Solskjaer has won 55 and lost 25 of his 101 games in charge. Van Gaal, sacked because of a Europa League first-leg defeat two months before he actually left, won 54 and lost 24 of his 103 matches. That wasn’t good enough for the latter, so why is the former definitively ‘safe’ with an incredibly similar record?
Custis’ main point against sacking Solskjaer is that ‘you start all over again – another new manager, another change of staff, more money spent on the players he wants, rather than the ones he has inherited’. So his argument is not actually linked to the Norwegian being any good at all, just that replacing him involves a lot of admin.
‘But former Tottenham boss Poch is the answer, apparently,’ he adds in a withering, dismissive an entirely unnecessary tone. And we should know what that looks like.
‘He has never won a trophy as a manager and won just seven of his last 26 games in charge at Spurs before being replaced by Mourinho – the bloke Man United sacked before appointing Solskjaer.’
Who knew Custis valued the Tippeligaen and Norwegian Football Cup so highly? They are the only trophies Solskjaer has ever won after all. Then there is the small matter of Pochettino winning 132 of his 256 Premier League games (51.5%), compared to Solskjaer’s 35 victories from 83 matches (42.1%). That feels pretty relevant.
Custis then adds that Manchester United’s ‘lean years’ have involved ‘an FA Cup, EFL Cup, Europa League and a second-placed Premier League finish,’ and that ‘Pochettino would have taken any one of those.’
He did. Spurs finished second under him. It was their greatest Premier League season. Man United came sixth that year.
‘He did get to a Champions League final, though, and Spurs were awful in it.’
And that’s just not true. They had almost three times as many shots on target as Liverpool and far more possession, only to be undone by a fairly harsh first-minute penalty and a second goal three minutes from time.
The Sun’s own report from that game said Tottenham ‘will feel hard done-by’ as ‘they were the better team’.
But no, they were ‘awful’, Pochettino deserves to be mocked because he chose to manage outside of the elite in Spain and England rather than in Norway and Solskjaer should stay – not due to his achievements or acumen but because replacing him means ‘you start all over again’.
And who could possibly look at this Man United side down in 15th and without a home league win in six games after millions of pounds worth of investment and think they might need that?
Poch and learn
Trevor Sinclair also doubts whether Pochettino is the man to take over from Solskjaer.
“I’m not sure,” he told talkSPORT. “I’m not sure he does suit the Man United philosophy because it’s all attack, attack, attack. I think with the way that Poch plays, or his team played, especially when he took over Tottenham it was more possession-based and playing through the lines.”
So who would he go for instead? Which manager, to him, is the “attack, attack, attack” coach Man United desperately need?
“I’ve always thought Diego Simeone epitomises Man United, that kind of aggressive, playing on the front foot, having the players super fit to be able to play 95/100 minutes of a game.”
Because Simeone is renowned for his free-flowing, all-out attacking football. Still, it’s a better argument than Custis’ ‘but you’ll have to appoint someone else’.
More than a Phelan
Writes Martin Samuel:
‘That is what was truly disturbing about the first goal Man United conceded in Istanbul. Neither Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, nor his coaching staff, spotted it. Not Mike Phelan, not Michael Carrick. And these are empty stadiums. It is not as if managers and coaches cannot make themselves heard in the current climate.’
What’s hot? Writing a well-paid column for the Daily Mail. What’s not? Completely ignoring Mike Phelan screaming at Nemanja Matic from the sidelines.
F365 shithouse story of the day
‘Would Man United fans take Gerrard now or Solskjaer until May?’
It is a Mailbox but that is still asking for trouble.
Recommended reading of the day
Jacob Steinberg on David Moyes.
Miguel Delaney on Pep Guardiola v Jurgen Klopp.