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So close and yet so far

April 24 - 30, 2019

Gulf Weekly Kristian Harrison
By Kristian Harrison

Gulf Weekly So close and yet so far

Ole might be at the wheel, as the song goes, but the wheels are starting to come off rapidly.

Jose Mourinho might have been accused of parking the bus … but at least he didn’t crash it!

This might be an unfair assessment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s current plight as Manchester United boss. Whilst he enjoyed three months of bliss, riding a wave of positivity as United went on a long run of consecutive victories, including that wonderful miracle in Paris, the team seems to have reverted to type.

Sunday’s defeat at Everton was simply abject. They were outplayed from the first whistle in terms of technical ability and desire. Most tellingly, they were outrun by more than 8km by their opponents, which is simply unacceptable for Manchester United.

The 4-0 thrashing was the worst defeat of the season, and the sixth loss from the last eight games (their worst run since 1989) to leave the Red Devils marooned in sixth place in the Premier League.

United did not have an attempt on target until the 86th minute and Solskjaer strode over to the singing away supporters at full-time to apologise for the shellacking.

Certain players led a quick getaway, with Paul Pogba the first down the tunnel, though Scott McTominay and Diogo Dalot stayed out and held their hands up apologetically.

When asked if he had seen enough hurt to be confident the players care enough, Solskjaer paused and eventually said: “I don’t know. You’ve got to ask them.

“I’ve asked them, you’re not going to get the answer from me. But, of course, if you want to play at this club it has to mean more. I’ve said this as well, I want them to be the hardest-working team in the league, that’s what we were under Sir Alex Ferguson, that’s what we were, what we’ve always been ... Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Denis Irwin, whoever you were.

“No matter the level of talent you’ve got, you ran more than everyone, every single week, and put a shift up and down that pitch for your teammates and we have to stick together as a team.”

Body language tells you a lot about a team and it was obvious what kind of performance was to be expected even after five minutes.

United have got a lot of talented players but, right from the start they showed no heart, no desire and no will to win. They were woeful.

Everyone was guilty. Even Marcus Rashford, who has got one of the best attitudes of anyone at the club, got sucked in by what seems to be a vacuum of negativity.

It was the kind of half-hearted display you might expect to see right at the end of the season from a team that have not had a great time of things and do not have anything to play for.

It is Solskjaer’s job to motivate them, but sometimes that’s an impossible job. Numerous players seem more bothered about how many social media followers they have than how they perform on the pitch.

It also remains that United simply lack real quality.

How many of their players would get into the starting XI of their other Premier League rivals? David de Gea – who himself has been fairly shaky this season – is one. Paul Pogba? When he can be bothered, definitely. Marcus Rashford perhaps on his best day, but aside from that there is a severe lack of world class talent which a club like United should possess.

What makes up for lack of talent?

Effort. Desire. Working hard.

Luckily for United, none of their other rivals seem to want to finish in the Top 4 either. Spurs can be forgiven for losing to Manchester City, but Arsenal slumped to a defeat at home to Crystal palace and Chelsea are prone to dropping points in winnable games too.

There’s still a chance for United with Manchester City and Chelsea still to play, but it will take another of Ole’s miracles to steer this club from sliding further off the cliff.

Root and branch changes are needed, not only in terms of a good bunch of players who need shifting out but at board level too. A director of football is essential, and a footballing brain should be in charge of footballing matters, not former banker Ed Woodward who is outstanding on the financial and marketing side of things but sorely lacking when it comes to the pitch matters.

United have a chance to prove their critics wrong tonight when they face rivals Manchester City in a fierce local derby, but as a cruel twist of fate, that would possibly hand the title to even more hated adversaries, Liverpool.

I’m not saying I want Man City to win, but …

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