If you were to assess Ole Gunnar Solskjær on his first full season in charge of Manchester United, you would probably give him a passing grade. When you consider that the knives were being sharpened at the end of last year, the second half of the campaign was quite the turnaround.
It was a turnaround that was undoubtedly instigated by the arrival of Bruno Fernandes and, with the Portuguese midfielder becoming arguably the signing of the season, you would be hard pressed to find a player who has made more of an immediate mid-season impact.
His impact saw the Old Trafford outfit secure a return to the Champions League next season in the nick of time, after hunting down Leicester on the final day of the season. Given where they found themselves a few months previously, it was a job well done by the Red Devils.
Although there were undoubtedly celebrations after that 2-0 win at the King Power Stadium, the mood would have been somewhat tempered either side of that game due to semi-final exits from both the F.A. Cup and the Europa League. Solskjær will look back on both and wonder what might have been.
Because although Bruno Fernandes has injected new life into the attacking phase of United’s endeavour, Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been let down in the biggest moments by his defence.
With the club continually linked with the likes of Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho or even Tottenham’s Harry Kane, you get the feeling their scouting department should be looking elsewhere.
In a season where David De Gea has shown he is susceptible to errors, his inclusion for the Europa League Semi-final clash with Sevilla was questionable, if only because Sergio Romero had been trusted with the gloves earlier in the competition.
The Argentine has been the de facto ‘keeper when it comes to United’s European exploits and, though hindsight is a wonderful thing, one does wonder whether his presence should have continued against the La Liga outfit.
Romero has looked the sharper of the two shot stoppers this season and Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s decision to call upon De Gea’s services ultimately backfired. Though it is unfair to lay the blame completely at his door, his inclusion played some part in United’s Europa League demise.
The former Atletico Madrid stopper was not at direct fault for either of Sevilla’s two goals but he no longer exudes the confidence he once had and world class performances are now few and far between.
De Gea’s decline has led to much chatter about the returning Dean Henderson who, after such an impressive stint at Sheffield United, will not be looking to warm the Old Trafford bench next season.
With Romero to choose from as well, United have unbelievable strength in depth in the goalkeeping department. It presents a nice problem for Ole Gunnar Solskjær but is a problem all the same and, not only will Solskjær have to decide who plays between the sticks, but also whether the 29-year-old De Gea has a long-term future with the club.
Of course, if United are overstocked with capable goalkeepers, the same cannot be said in terms of centre-backs and, no matter the combination, it seems a perfect partnership is still some way off in the distance.
With such a large expenditure being required to land Harry Maguire from Leicester 12 months ago, it stands to reason that his performances and especially those as of late, have come under the microscope the most.
United only conceding 36 goals in the league, the third best record, but performances still have not been befitting if what you expect from a United rearguard, leaking key goals at bad times. When you consider the fearsome centre-back partnerships who have given their all for the club previously, England international Maguire and whoever plays alongside him have been short of that standard.
Whether it’s Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly, there remains the sense that United’s defence have a soft underbelly and with opposition knowing that they can be got at, their recent cup failures have been testament to an exposed back four being caught out.
The left-back position has also caused problems lately and with Brandon Williams still looking a little rough around the edges and Luke Shaw injury prone, United’s defence can be considered no more than a work in progress.
With that said, a large amount of work has been done in a short space of time but the club aren’t quite there yet and, if they harbour any genuine hopes of wining silverware next season, world class defensive reinforcements should be top of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s wishlist.
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