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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

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Manchester City fans worried Manchester United boss Solskjaer will be sacked before derby – Sporting News AU

It is less than a fortnight until the Manchester Derby, and Manchester City fans are getting worried.

Worried, that is, that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will not still be in charge of Manchester United on November 7.

Worried that their bitter rivals will have a coach in place by then that can maximise a talented but disorganised squad.

Worried that a new man might be able to get the Red Devils within striking distance of their closest rivals for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club.

United have always been City’s most despised opponents, but the challenge from across town has become almost so irrelevant – United’s last serious title assault was back in 2013 – that these days that when they face teams like Liverpool or Chelsea, City supporters generally want the Old Trafford outfit to win.

There will, of course, have been enjoyable moments of schadenfreude as United’s humiliation snowballed against Jurgen Klopp’s side on Sunday, particularly when the television coverage pulled away to a camera high above Old Trafford so as to show thousands of home fans leaving the stadium long before full-time.

But there will also be concern that the situation has become so bad, the embarrassment so raw, that the United board will be forced to act.

“The last thing we need is a new United manager if Spurs beat United, and the Glazers sack Ole the week before the derby,” one fan wrote on the Blue Moon website.

“As satisfying as it is to see them in so much distress, I really, really, really don’t want [Antonio] Conte showing up there,” wrote another.

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Solskjaer has now seemingly entered the same realm as his predecessors Jose Mourinho, Louis van Gaal and David Moyes: a dead man walking with the complete backing of the club’s decision-makers until they are forced to bow to the inevitable and put him out of his misery.

Despite things slowly moving in the right direction at United over the past couple of seasons, Solskjaer has never been taken seriously by the club’s rivals.

If he is to survive until the third anniversary of his original caretaker appointment next month, he will have done it without having won a trophy, and with a challenge for this season’s Premier League title seemingly already over.

Any suggestions that United could compete for the Champions League would also seem fanciful given their abject performances against Young Boys, Villarreal and Atalanta so far, even though they have managed to secure two late, come-from-behind wins in the process.

Just like Klopp, Pep Guardiola will have watched those matches, along with United’s recent defeats at the hands of Leicester City, West Ham and Aston Villa, and picked out weaknesses throughout the team.

An attack that cannot press effectively, a midfield that leaves huge pockets of space and a defence that can easily be dragged out of position are just some of the areas that the Catalan will be aiming to take advantage of in 13 days’ time.

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While Liverpool were ruthless against United and have a player in Mohamed Salah that is probably the most lethal in the Premier League right now, they were not out-of-this-world good on Sunday. They did not have to be.

Their 5-0 win was a triumph for organisation and a coach with a plan – Klopp’s players knew that if they stuck to their strategy, the opportunities would come.

United’s hope of a win, as has become the norm under Solskjaer, was built around individual moments of brilliance – a Bruno Fernandes long-range strike, an instance of athleticism from Cristiano Ronaldo or a flash of audacious skill from Mason Greenwood.

Like Liverpool’s success, Guardiola’s at City has been built around a team ethic and belief in his philosophy – and a team that outplayed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and were the better side for long periods in their draw at Anfield will have no fear travelling five miles across the city right now.

The irony is that Solskjaer has been one of the more successful managers against Guardiola. He is the only coach throughout the Catalan’s career to have faced him on more than two occasions and won more games against him than he has lost, racking up four wins and a draw from their eight encounters, including three victories in three attempts at the Etihad Stadium.

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Each was earned with a notable tactical nous, as Solskjaer’s side sat deep, packed the defence to soak up the pressure and caught City on the break using the speed of the likes of Marcus Rashford and Daniel James on the break.

However, when United have tried to be more adventurous at Old Trafford, they have been easily picked off, most notably in successive Carabao Cup semi-finals as Solskjaer was robbed of an opportunity for some much-needed silverware.

Those performances underline the United manager’s struggles to take the next step in the bid to become genuine competition for City, Liverpool and current Premier League leaders Chelsea.

At the start of the 2021-22 season, there was some fears among rival fans that the United squad had the quality to make the leap following the additions of Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo.

But with Varane already out with an injury, Sancho could only watch on from the bench as United were pulled apart by Liverpool, with some suggesting that, as a more technical player, he is being sacrificed in the same way that Donny van de Beek has been in his miserable 15 months in Manchester.

The debate rumbles on, meanwhile, as to whether Ronaldo is more of a help or a hinderance for the current Manchester United squad.

While United remain full of individual match winners and a derby victory is not inconceivable, the potential of the squad under a coach able to compete with managers such as Guardiola, Klopp or Thomas Tuchel would be more concerning.

A defeat at Tottenham could see United drop into the bottom half of the table by the time the derby comes around.

“We want you to stay,” City fans sang the last time they visited Old Trafford last January. They will be hoping they get the opportunity for another encore.

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