Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is ignoring potential solutions to Man United’s midfield problems

Donny van de Beek started warming up with 20 minutes left at the King Power Stadium when he had about as much chance of coming on as his manager.

By the time Manchester United had made their second and third changes, Leicester had breached a permeable defence. Jesse Lingard, unfortunate not to start again, replaced Mason Greenwood – United’s most threatening forward.

The incumbent manager’s substitution strategy is the least of United’s worries. The defeat to Leicester – the second in three Premier League games to leave United with five wins from 11 this season – is the cue for inquests and the back pages to be cleared. The club crest is starting to crack.

David de Gea stared bleakly at his stanchion after Caglar Soyuncu pounced, doubtless having flashbacks. He was a one-man rearguard amid his teammates’ inability to defend a set-piece. United’s standout performer so far this term, in all bar one year De Gea has received the Sir Matt Busby statue the United manager has been sacked.

There is no longer any credible argument for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to be the United manager and his authority erodes by the day. Club sources insist the managerial situation has not changed.

The recent contract extension for Mike Phelan is insignificant for, although he rejoined the club at the same time as Solskjaer, they are not conjoined. Phelan’s last managerial stint was with Hull and United have already appointed a caretaker whose previous Premier League job was associated with relegation.

Former players enthused about Phelan’s coaching sessions when he was the assistant manager to Sir Alex Ferguson for five years yet now he is off the grass. Phelan did not emerge into the technical area once at Leicester. A club source said he is the ‘link to the past’. United are living in the past.

Kieran McKenna and Michael Carrick continue to do the bulk of coaching and that is coming under intense scrutiny. Darren Fletcher still pulls on his boots, participates in the rondos , poses for the ‘winning team’ shots, and was preparing Raphael Varane in Bern. He is the technical director. Industry sources are baffled by his visible presence at Carrington.

Red flags have been planted throughout the year. The first as early as January, when United became dizzy as soon as they reached the league summit. If the players lost their nerve in that demoralising defeat to Sheffield United then it was Solskjaer who lost his in the Europa League final.

It happened again on Saturday, when he was in thrall to the marquee names. A braver manager would have hooked Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, or Cristiano Ronaldo, not Greenwood or Jadon Sancho.

As the cameras zoomed in on Solskjaer as full-time loomed, he bore the look of a man who had hit a brick wall. One could gauge Solskjaer’s anger by the eternity he took to emerge for his post-match media duties. There would have been a dressing room dressing-down.

That was some brass neck on Pogba to suggest ‘change’ when many would suggest United change him for another midfielder. More than five years on from his blockbuster return, Pogba’s role is still uncertain.

Play him on the left and United – renowned for wing play – are deprived of a winger. Play him in midfield and he often plays his partner into trouble. Nemanja Matic mopped up time and again at Leicester until he was eventually rinsed by Youri Tielemans.

Pogba has excelled for most of the calendar year. United’s form deteriorated without him during his six-week lay-off and improved with him. No midfielder reached Pogba’s lofty level during the European Championship, a tournament that has elevated fellow midfielder Jorginho to Ballon d’Or favourite. Pogba was rated highly by L’Equipe following France’s Nations League final victory over Spain eight days ago.

Sources say Pogba has shown no inclination to spend the next phase of his career at United and you cannot hold that against him when he would have the pick of the lot in eight months’ time.

His lack of contract commitment would make any demotion straightforward. Solskjaer almost always goes into bat for Pogba but the zenith of his in-game management was the win at Paris Saint-Germain last season – when Pogba started on the bench.

Solskjaer is privately unhappy United failed to recruit a midfielder in the summer amid a desire to switch to a proactive 4-3-3 formation. A midfield incoming was always unforeseeable with no takers for Pogba and an addition to the department is a near-certainty next year, though it remains to be seen if Solskjaer greets that arrival.

A compliant manager, Solskjaer can hardly lament United’s midfield imbalance when he has been furnished with £461.3million worth of talent in two years. There are potential internal solutions he is ignoring.

Matic has been underused this season and was United’s best outfield performer at Leicester but cannot hold vigil every week, never mind on his own. Scott McTominay, transformed into a goal-getting midfielder by Solskjaer, is a suitable stop-gap and the reprogramming would not be inordinate given his regular defensive role for Scotland.

Van de Beek’s situation and signing have been covered chapter and verse but elite managers have got a tune out of players foisted onto them or whom they have inherited. Consider Jurgen Klopp with Divock Origi, Pep Guardiola and Nicolas Otamendi or Mauricio Pochettino and Moussa Sissoko. Or, more relevantly: Jose Mourinho and Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Louis van Gaal and Ashley Young.

Who is Solskjaer to dismiss a talent as appreciated as Van de Beek? Like Solskjaer, Van de Beek also marked his United debut with a goal off the bench. He was unused for the 27th time at Leicester.

See also  Man United have a briliant Ronaldo and a new Solskjaer problem after stirring Atalanta win
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