Will Manchester United fire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager? Latest on rumors of potential sacking

Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer survive a 4-1 loss to Watford? We’re about to find out after an emergency meeting has reportedly been called by the Manchester United board after the latest loss. 

The Times in London is reporting that Solskjaer’s job will be the topic of conversation at the meeting.

Additional reporting by the Times indicate that the club owners want to convince Zinedine Zidane to take over on the sidelines. 

Ownership gave Solskjaer the two-week international break to get things right after the previous 2-0 derby loss to Manchester City. But things did not look much better against Watford in the first game back. Watford scored four goals and could have had more if it were not for two penalty kick saves by David De Gea. It didn’t help that Man United captain Harry Maguire got himself sent off in the match.

Going into that previous loss to Manchester City, Solskjaer reportedly had three matches to save his job following the humiliating 5-0 home loss to Liverpool. But it was never clear what those results needed to be. 

Club management also decided to keep the 48-year-old manager at the helm after the debacle against Liverpool, despite “giving serious consideration to dismissing Solskjaer.” After a change of formation to a three center back system, his Man United side went 1-1-1 during those next three matches. A league win at Tottenham and a Champions League draw at Atalanta were followed by the deflating 2-0 home loss to intra-city rival Manchester City which brought back many of the helpless feelings of the Liverpool defeat.

Solskjaer said after the Liverpool match that he still felt like he was the right man for the job despite calling that 5-0 scoreline “rock bottom.” And he was still convinced of it after the humbling setback to Manchester City, during which Man United was outclassed and thoroughly outplayed.  

“I’m in good communication all the time with the club and very up front and honest about the situation,” he said after the derby defeat. “I work for Manchester United and want the best for Manchester United. As long as I’m here, I want to do what I can do to improve this, and that’s going back to what we started to look like.

“We still don’t trust ourselves with the ball and we don’t pass the ball as well as I know we can,” continued Solskjaer, who also conceded that his team is not on par with the other Premier League contenders. “At the moment we are [far off]. But we’ve got to get back to what we started to look like. We started to look like a proper team toward the end of last season and the start of this season, and we need to get back to that. “

But the prevailing sentiment after both matches against title favorites Liverpool and Manchester City was that those teams had clear gameplans, movements and patterns of play that made them appear a step ahead of a Man United side which was merely reacting and failing to reach the same standards.

Those same deficiencies also showed up against Atalanta in the Champions League, but Cristiano Ronaldo rescued the Red Devils with incredible individual efforts to earn a win and draw in both of those matches.

The case against Solskjaer

Despite a number of big signings this offseason, including Raphael Varane ($44 million paid to Real Madrid), Jadon Sancho ($93 million paid to Borussia Dortmund) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($16 million to Juventus), Manchester United has not played well this season, and even many of the wins haven’t been convincing.

MORE: How Ronaldo escaped a red card vs. Liverpool

United has one win in its last seven league games, a run which has dropped it to seventh place in the standings, 12 points behind leaders Chelsea. The Red Devils have already been eliminated from the Carabao Cup (League Cup) and have needed to come from behind in their last three Champions League matches after opening the group stage with a shock loss to Swiss side Young Boys. The 5-0 loss to Liverpool was the low point of a challenging few weeks and the Manchester City performance didn’t feel like progress. The Watford loss seems to be the final straw.

Solskjaer’s tactics and lineup selections have been called into question for over a month. United has generally suffered from a lack of organization and coordinated movements without the ball, and there are few clear collective ideas that show up in the attacking sequences, which have instead relied on moments of individual brilliance. The elite competition of the UEFA Champions League has exposed those failings with his team losing half of the matches played in that competition during his tenure (7 of 14).

All this has led to public comments from his own players about tactics and gameplans, and that has led to reports that Solskjaer has lost “the trust of a number of players.”

But there were still voices in the press, including some of his former Man United teammates, that made the case that Solskjaer needs better players or more time and support from ownership. One report even blames the club’s American owners for maintaining low standards that have led to this crisis moment for the club. 

Solskjaer’s Manchester United contract

After finishing in second place in the Premier League last season (12 points behind Manchester City) and leading Manchester United to the Europa League final (lost on penalties to Villarreal), Manchester United gave Solskjaer a new three-year contract in July that runs through 2024 with an option for an extra season. That would make parting ways with the Norwegian especially tough to stomach for management.

Since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, it’s Solskjaer who’s enjoyed the longest time at the helm and the most player investment:

Manager Arrival Departure Matches Premier League Trophies
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Dec. 19, 2018 N/A 169 6th, 3rd, 2nd, 7th (current) 0
Jose Mourinho May 27, 2016 Dec. 18, 2018 144 6th, 2nd, 6th (Dec. 2018) 3
Louis Van Gaal July 16, 2014 May 23, 2016 103 4th & 5th 1
David Moyes July 1, 2013 April 22, 2014 51 7th (April 2014)

Who could become Man United manager?

It was believed that Italian Antonio Conte, who was coming off a league title-winning season with Inter Milan in Italy, was the candidate with the best resume to take over a club as storied as United. But despite reports of his interest in the Man United job, he joined Tottenham Hotspur after Spurs fired their manager, Nuno Espirito Santo.

One UK sportsbook had odds on a list of permanent manager candidates and many of the names have existing club commitments or have already rebuffed any links. Ex-Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, who once coached Ronaldo at Real Madrid, was at one point reportedly not interested, and it’s hard to imagine Roberto Martinez jumping ship from Belgium, the No. 1-ranked national team in the world, ahead of a World Cup, or Ronaldo becoming a player manager. 

Manager Current Club Odds
Brendan Rodgers Leicester City 3.0
Mauricio Pochettino PSG 4.33
Zinedine Zidane free agent 4.5
Erik ten Hag Ajax 8
Roberto Martinez Belgium 15
Ralf Rangnick Lokomotiv Moscow 15
Julian Nagelsmann Bayern Munich 15
Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United 15

The most likely candidate from that list, and one whose coaching philosophy would fit with Man United’s preferred proactive playing style, seemed to be the architect of RB Leipzig’s rise to Bundesliga power: Ralf Rangnick, who recently joined Lokomotiv Moscow in a management role. German-based SportBild reporter Christian Falk claimed he’s interested.

However, The Independent’s Miguel Delaney is reporting that Rangnick would only serve as an interim coach until he could hire a permanent manager to take over, allowing Rangnick to ascend to a Director of Football capacity.

When could Manchester United change managers?

Some clubs wait until the extended breaks offered by FIFA international windows for World Cup qualifiers and Nov. 7-Nov. 17 would have been one of those.  

Although he was missing his international players who joined their respective nations for World Cup qualifying, Solskjaer had two weeks to work on tactical aspects that are tougher to do when the team is playing and recovering from competitive matches every three days.

The Watford match was the first in a testing series of matches in late November. After the Watford match, the qualification to the Round of 16 of the Champions League could be at stake in a pivotal group stage match at Villarreal (Nov. 23).

The week wraps up with a massive clash against league leaders Chelsea (Nov. 28), which could permanently take Manchester United out of the title race.

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