Ole Gunnar Solskjaer called the 4-0 defeat at Everton a ‘shambles’ and a ‘capitulation’… but despite improvements since that dark day, Manchester United’s boss still has plenty to fix ahead of return
- Manchester United take on Everton 10 months after they were hammered 4-0
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer questioned his side’s desire at Goodison Park last April
- The Manchester United boss has improved his side’s defence since that day
- He’s also given youngsters a chance and learned to play without Paul Pogba
- There is still work to do in the transfer market and areas of the side to improve
For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United’s miserable defeat at Goodison Park last April was undoubtedly the lowest point of his first season in charge.
In December, as United prepared to face the Toffees for the first time since that humiliating 4-0 loss, the Norwegian described it as ‘more or less a shambles’.
On the day itself, he went over to the away end and apologised, later admitting that his side ‘were not worthy of a Manchester United team’.
Manchester United return to Goodison Park on Sunday after being beaten 4-0 there last term
And ahead of their return to Merseyside on Sunday, Solskjaer said: ‘That was a capitulation. We had absolutely nothing about us. Everything you didn’t want to see you saw in that game.’
Goals from Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lucas Digne and Theo Walcott gave Marco Silva’s side a more than comfortable victory, leaving Solskjaer to question the desire of his ‘sloppy’ side.
Things were altogether more positive before December’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, with the former Molde boss insisting he now had ‘a different group, a group that’s ready for the fight and is ready for the football.’
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer apologised to the away end and admitted United had been a ‘shambles’
He has continued the theme of positivity this week, vowing: ‘With hand on heart, I can say 100 per cent these boys will never give in and never give up like that team did.
‘These are the boys we want to build the next team around.’
Despite sitting fifth in the table, a whopping 38 points behind rivals and leaders Liverpool, United have made improvements since that nightmare day on Merseyside.
As the two teams prepare to meet again at Goodison on Sunday, Sportsmail takes a closer look at their progress – and the problems Solskjaer still needs to fix.
SHORING-UP A SHAKY DEFENCE
United were ripped apart by Everton 10 months ago and were lucky not to concede more against a side who had beaten Chelsea and Arsenal in their previous two home games.
Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof couldn’t deal with the pace, energy and movement in the hosts’ attack, while Nemanja Matic and Fred offered little protection from midfield.
Things may be far from perfect now, but Solskjaer made a concerted effort to fix his side’s defensive issues during the last summer transfer window.
United splashed out to make Harry Maguire the most expensive defender of all time at £80million, while another £50m was spent on Aaron Wan-Bissaka after his breakthrough season at Crystal Palace.
Summer signings Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire have improved United’s defence
Both have become integral parts of Solskjaer’s back four, while competition from youngster Brandon Williams has helped improve Luke Shaw’s form.
They have the joint-fourth best defensive record in the Premier League this season having conceded 29 goals, although their total of seven clean sheets needs work.
They have, however, had more shutouts in all competitions (17) than any side in Europe apart from PSG (22) and Liverpool (also 17). Solskjaer has a foundation to build on.
LEARNING TO PLAY WITHOUT POGBA
Paul Pogba has not started a game for United since late September and has just eight appearances to his name all season after a string of injury problems.
His agent, Mino Raiola, has no made secret of the Frenchman’s desire to leave for Juventus or Real Madrid at the end of the season, but that now looks like much less of a problem for Solskjaer.
Although United would have been better off with a fit and firing Pogba in midfield this term, they have learned to live without him already.
Paul Pogba has barely featured for United this season due to a succession of ankle problems
The much-maligned Fred has improve significantly in recent months, while Scott McTominay was quickly developing into a first team regular before injury struck.
And perhaps most importantly of all, Pogba’s ankle issues helped speed up a move for Sporting Lisbon captain Bruno Fernandes in January.
The £68m man already looks at home in a red shirt and is now free to take on the role of chief playmaker in Pogba’s absence.
The 26-year-old is likely to be granted his move away at the end of the season, but few at Old Trafford will miss him.
BRINGING THROUGH THE NEXT GENERATION
From the Busby Babes to the Class of ’92, United have a long and proud history of developing their own players and introducing them to the first team.
That tradition is in safe hands with Solskjaer, who has openly spoken of his desire to give young players a chance to prove themselves.
In the 4-0 defeat at Everton, he started Marcus Rashford and brought Andreas Pereira and McTominay off the bench. That was just the start.
Mason Greenwood (left) and Brandon Williams have become first-team regulars this season
Nineteen-year-old Williams has emerged as a genuine option at both left full back and wing back this season, having racked up 23 appearances in all competitions.
And after making three appearances in 2018-19, Mason Greenwood is now a full-fledged member of the squad with 11 goals and 34 games to his name so far this season.
Academy graduates Angel Gomes, James Garner, Tahith Chong, Ethan Laird and Dylan Levitt are among those to have also seen first team action, with Solskjaer keeping one eye fixed on the future.
RASHFORD ON THE RISE
Before he was struck by a serious back injury in January, Rashford was enjoying the most prolific spell of his career to date.
The England man was isolated and ineffective at Goodison last time out, but this season he has netted 19 times in just 31 games, relishing his role on the left side of United’s front-three and often cutting inside to shoot on his favoured right foot.
But while Rashford deserves plenty of credit for finding his best form, Solskjaer’s role in helping him hit the goal trail should not go under the radar.
Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring one of his 19 goals against Norwich at Old Trafford
The Norwegian is a huge admirer of the 22-year-old and he has worked closely with him to help improve his finishing over the last 14 months.
The temptation not to use him as a central striker also appears to have paid dividends, with Rashford able to utilise his electric pace out wide more often.
FAILING TO REPLACE LUKAKU
Solskjaer made the controversial decision to allow both Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to leave last summer, without having a replacement lined-up.
And despite the brilliant form of Rashford, it would be hard to argue that being without a recognised No 9 has been anything but a negative.
Anthony Martial has filled that role for much of the campaign, but questions remain over his ability to play through the middle long term.
Romelu Lukaku has been a hit at Inter Milan since United allowed him to leave for £73million
Solskjaer’s case hasn’t been helped by the brilliant form of Lukaku, who has already scored 23 goals in all competitions to help Inter mount a serious title challenge.
The Belgian may not have been the answer at Old Trafford, but Solskjaer would’ve benfited from having a focal point up-front since August.
Although Odion Ighalo arrived from China in January, he appears to be nothing more than a stopgap until the end of the season. A new striker should be top of Solskjaer’s shopping list come the summer.
THE RIGHT WING PROBLEM
Daniel James made a fast start to his United career after making a surprise move from Swansea last summer, but things have slowed down since.
After scoring three goals in his first four games of the season, the Wales star has failed to find the net in 31 appearances since.
Solskjaer has persisted with James despite a noticeable dip in his form and end product, even though he may have been better off getting a rest.
Daniel James has struggled for form after a bright start to his career at Manchester United
The 22-year-old has started 31 games in all competitions and has seven assists, but the last one arrived over two months ago.
Whether it’s due to a lack of alternative options or simply having faith that more minutes would help him get back to his best, Solskjaer has got this one wrong.
A winger is likely to be a priority for United this summer, but for now James should be taken out of the firing line, starting at Goodison on Sunday.
GETTING RID OF THE DEAD WOOD
Gary Neville is one of many United fans who has been unable to wrap his head around how the club have spent so much money in the transfer market in recent years, only to end up with a squad unable to challenge at the very top of the table.
Their recruitment problems are neatly summarised by the amount of players who either cost a significant amount, or earn big wages, and are now out on loan.
Sanchez, Smalling and Marcos Rojo are all away from Old Trafford on temporary deals after being deemed not good enough by Solskjaer over the last six months.
Marcos Rojo is one of a number of stars who could be sold after falling down the pecking order
And despite the ex-Cardiff boss speaking publicly about them all having a chance of returning to the fold this summer, the reality is likely to be very different.
Solskjaer, with the help of Ed Woodward, must work to get that trio off the books for good if they don’t stand a chance of playing under him next season.
United have spent their money poorly for too long in the years post-Sir Alex Ferguson. It cannot continue if they are to get back to where they want to be.
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