IF Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s days as Manchester United boss really are numbered, he will be sorely missed by swathes of the betting community who have regularly made hay from backing the Reds to initially falter before mounting late comebacks.
Since the start of last season, United have accrued an astonishing 35 points from losing positions and this trait is prominent across the Norwegian’s 164 games at the helm since his appointment in December 2018. From this tally, 11% have resulted in reversals of fortune with such a high volume leading to the 13-time Premier League champions being crowned as ‘Comeback Kings’ and even if this plaudit damns them with false praise that’s of little concern to us. What matters is that for quite some time now the odds on United going behind but ultimately prevailing have remained generous while the chances of it happening were entirely plausible. What matters is that for a season or two we felt like Biff in Back To The Future gaining possession of a sports almanac.
Sadly, these wondrous, bountiful days will very likely and very soon be coming to an end because at Old Trafford last Sunday there was no trademark recovery. Instead, it just got worse and worse as Liverpool – of all teams – racked up a comprehensive victory that revealed every entrenched United flaw and some new ones to boot. Once again Solksjaer’s men attempted to play out from the back despite being woeful at it. Once again, the midfield was too easily by-passed. Once again, they were disjointed, looking to individuals for moments of magic to deflect from their worrying lack of cohesion and tactical acumen. Only this time – as evidenced by Paul Pogba’s two-footed lunge and Ronaldo’s alley-kick on Curtis Jones – heads went. This time they completely unraveled and that was new.
Man City (H)
— Unibet (@unibet) October 26, 2021
This seismic defeat means that United have won just two of their last seven competitive fixtures, both in the Champions League and naturally both necessitating second-half rallies after going behind. They have kept just one clean sheet in their last 21 games and been breached 12 times in October alone and when statistics are as stark as this for an elite club it typically forces a board to act. According to reliable information, Solksjaer has just three games to keep his job and given those games are against Spurs on Saturday, followed by Atalanta away and Manchester City, it’s a tough ask for sure. For the much maligned, sometimes ridiculed United coach there is likely no coming back from this.
So, for one last time then – for old time’s sake – let’s back a further United renaissance and not just for sentimentalities sake though romantics only need recall the Reds’ famous win from a three-goal deficit at Tottenham back in 2001 that had Solskjaer come on to turn the match on its head.
On a more pragmatic level, there is every reason to believe yet another rousing finale that papers over the cracks lies in wait at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, not least the fact that United almost always respond strongly whenever it feels like Solksjaer’s endgame is fast approaching. Granted, right now feels very different, more substantial, but still, how often have we seen United slump into poor form and just when the pressure builds to boiling point, they compound the situation further by conceding to their next opponent. Cue Twitter Armageddon. Cue a vibrant second half performance with Fernandes and co winning out in impressive fashion.
Spurs have scored 66% of their goals this term in the first period and conceded 69% of their goals against in the second half. For their part, United have converted 11 of their 16 goals beyond the 45th minute and last season they notched a remarkable eight in added-on time. Already this season 31.8% of their goal-haul has arrived after 80 minutes. Really, it all fits. The circumstances. The teams involved and their ingrained habits. The narrative.
Or rather, it would all fit were it not for the need of Spurs scoring in order for this scenario to make sense. If United’s problems are heightened at present, Tottenham’s crisis is growing incrementally, as slow and steady as rising damp and precisely no-one was fooled by consecutive wins over Aston Villa and Newcastle that finally had Harry Kane locate the back of a Premier League net with Son and Ndombele spirited and enterprising around him. Subsequent losses to Vitesse and West Ham only confirmed that Nuno Espirito Santo is the right manager at completely the wrong club and in both instances, Spurs enjoyed the baulk of the possession but carved out scant opportunities. All told, in 2021/22, they have converted only 7.3% of their chances at that would be problematic at the best of times. Considering only Norwich have taken on fewer shots, that is a major issue.
So predictable and leisurely is Spurs’ build-up play right now that their demoralized visitors might have an easier task than anticipated and who knows, Manchester United may even keep a clean sheet and not require a Hollywood ending? Stranger things have happened in this fixture down the years, after all.