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Manchester United: It’s time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to prove himself as an elite-level manager – Micah Richards

Micah Richards column graphic

Part of the problem for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is that there is an over-reaction to every Manchester United win – and also every defeat.

That’s down to the size of the club and United’s recent history, when they won so much. Expectations are so high that when they don’t perform there is always going to be a backlash.

The first few weeks of this season have been the perfect example of that – for good and bad.

When United have won games, some people have been talking about how they are going to win the title. But when they lose, it is a total disaster and Solskjaer apparently has to go.

In reality, things are not as extreme either way and, if you look at the top of the Premier League table and see how everyone else has dropped points too, you can see there is no need at all for any alarm bells to be going off at Old Trafford.

Snapshot of the top of the Premier League: 1st Liverpool, 2nd Man City, 3rd Chelsea, 4th Man Utd, 5th Everton & 6th Brighton

Solskjaer is not the only manager who has to deal with this, though. Even Pep Guardiola was being questioned before Manchester City played Chelsea at the weekend, because he had lost his past three games against them.

But while Guardiola only had to remind everyone of what a good manager he is – which he did in some style on Saturday by the way – the difference with Solskjaer is that he still has to prove himself as a tactician at the elite level.

United need to show signs of progress

Villarreal celebrate after beating Manchester United in last season's Europa League final
Villarreal beat United 11-10 on penalties in last season’s Europa League final to extend United’s wait for a first trophy – since they won the same competition under Jose Mourinho in 2017

Solskjaer’s record in the Champions League, where he has lost seven out of 11 matches in charge, only fuels his doubters and United’s defeat against Young Boys in their opening group game of this campaign added to the pressure he faces every time his side play in Europe.

There is an added edge to Wednesday’s home game against Villarreal too. As well as needing a win to get back on track in Group F, United fans will want to see evidence of improvement and progress since they lost to the Spanish side in the Europa League final at the end of May.

That game was only four months ago. But, like City’s game with Chelsea was seen as a gauge of where they have learned or changed since losing to Thomas Tuchel’s side in the Champions League final, Solskjaer will be expected to have found solutions to what went wrong that night. United played poorly and we expected a lot more from them.

It will be intriguing to see what ideas he comes up with, but he won’t be able to say he didn’t have the options to change the game from the bench this time.

In Gdansk, Solskjaer did not use any of his substitutes until the final was into extra time, but since then he has added players of the calibre of Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho to his squad, which is just frightening.

The quality and strength in depth Solskjaer now has means there can be no more excuses. He has to take them to the next level and the only way to do that is by delivering a trophy.

He has done a brilliant job so far to bring the feel-good factor back to the club which was missing when he took charge, but that was almost three years ago. Not many managers would get three years at a club as big as United without winning anything.

I don’t see his job as being in danger now and it shouldn’t be. I really want to see his United team given a proper run because they have looked devastating at times.

But he is going to be judged at the end of the season on his success, or lack of it, and if he is going to win something, he needs to find the right system for the players he has got.

What does Solskjaer need to change?

Graphic showing Manchester United's starting XI v Aston Villa: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, Greenwood, Fernandes, Pogba, Ronaldo

At the moment it feels like Solskjaer is trying to fit all his best attacking players into his team, even if it is in a position that doesn’t suit them.

I can understand why he wants to play them, but it feels like there is no balance to the side at times, such as when Paul Pogba is on the wing and Sancho is on the bench. He needs Pogba’s creativity, but he also wants to include Mason Greenwood because he has started the season so well. And he is not going to drop Ronaldo is he?

It also feels like Solskajer can’t put his finger on what his preferred playing style is. Playing counter-attacking football has got him so far, but he still hasn’t won anything. When the onus has been on United to break teams down, that has rarely worked out.

He played Scott McTominay and Fred in Saturday’s home defeat against Villa and I don’t know if you need two defensive midfielders in a game like that. What is the benefit when you have got so much talent elsewhere?

It is down to Solskjaer to solve all of these problems, but he has struggled to do it in the past, which is why he still has something to prove.

In the past, in his time with United, every time there has been some adversity he has got through it, but has not pushed on afterwards.

If he is going to keep his job long term and be considered an elite manager, that also needs to change.

Micah Richards was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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