Manchester United’s Glazer owners have granted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s wish
There has been a worrying trend which has underpinned Manchester United’s first two full seasons under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, eventually seeing them finish trophyless in both.
A worrying habit which sees United embark on an incredible run of form before eventually running out of steam and coming unstuck when forced to rely upon the exasperated talents of a small bunch of key players.
After defeat to Sevilla in the Europa League semi-final last summer Solskjaer acknowledged the issue and made clear his wish for a deeper pool of players ahead of a bumper campaign.
“We need to strengthen the squad depth because it’s going to be a long season,” he openly admitted. “We’re going to keep pushing and keep demanding more of the players that we have, but still, we’re looking to improve and it’s a strange one.”
United’s response was to snatch at the unexpected opportunity to sign Donny van de Beek before bolstering their side on deadline day with late deals for Edinson Cavani, Alex Telles, Facundo Pellistri and Amad.
They were five new arrivals who certainly bolstered the squad options, but not signings who would significantly strengthen a starting line up still someway off the pace setters in English football.
Cavani was the only one of those signings who would ever break into the starting line up on merit last season, fulfilling United’s need for a main attacking focal point, albeit on a sporadic basis.
Even at his best the Uruguayan was only ever a short-term fix, it was always clearly going to be another issue to resolve in the near-future.
“When I talk about the squad depth, of course the performances [last season] didn’t warrant me giving more of them more options,” the Norwegian later stated. “The 11, 12 or 13 players deserved to play and they played really well.
“I think it’s a different scenario now. I’ve seen many of the other players who didn’t play too well the other season, play really well.”
Solskjaer looked to ease the pressure on the lack of recruitment when he analysed his squad in early October last year, insisting his side had been strengthened enough at a time when Van de Beek was still the only new arrival.
Those deadline deals would further ease his worries, but throughout last season the same issues reared their ugly heads yet again as United were once more undone by an over-reliance on their core group of stars.
The caveat is that with a bit more luck United would have won the Europa League final on penalties against Villarreal back in May, but had Solskjaer been braver with his substitutions they might not have had to rely on the proverbial ‘lottery’ of spot-kicks regardless.
It’s a defeat which will haunt Solskjaer throughout his managerial career, particularly until he finally puts things right with silverware success, though it was a result which once again highlighted his own trust issues with certain members of his squad.
Solskjaer’s favouritism is not only carved by a player’s ability but by the fact he quite clearly does not trust the players who would pose an alternative in such a situation.
It was that clear concern which inspired United’s ruthless approach in the summer window from the get-go when Tom Heaton arrived as a genuine back-up option should either ‘keeper had have left.
Jadon Sancho provides not only an immediate spark in attack but an alternative across any forward position and Raphael Varane’s arrival sees Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly now become vastly experienced reserve options.
Even before the final addition of Cristiano Ronaldo the aforementioned issue had been addressed, now it has been resoundingly crushed by his return to Manchester.
It means United are now in a position where they can cope without a couple of key players in attack and, on paper at least, have such squad depth that should see them avoid the issues which arose in their last two campaigns.
Perhaps most telling will be the fact United now have the luxury of genuine game changers on the bench for every match they play.
In a hypothetical situation Ronaldo, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford would front United’s best XI with Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes in behind them. That would leave the likes of Cavani, Sancho, Anthony Martial, Anthony Elanga, Jesse Lingard, Amad and Van de Beek as viable attacking game changers depending on the circumstances.
For all of his personal flaws Solskjaer had valid reason to complain about his depleted squad depth when discussing a lack of silverware at the club, but after a seismic summer that is no longer the case.
His wish has been granted by serious investment in world-class talent, the pressure is now all on him to make sure it reaps the rewards.