Manchester United lose to RB Leipzig: Problems catch up with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the Champions League

Manchester United's 3-2 defeat to RB Leipzig saw them eliminated from the Champions League with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer facing questions over his tactics ahead of the Manchester derby live on Sky Sports this Saturday...

Harry Maguire looks dejected after Manchester United's defeat to RB Leipzig in the Champions League
Image: Harry Maguire looks dejected after Manchester United's defeat to RB Leipzig in the Champions League

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is quick to remind people it is traditional for Manchester United to make things difficult for themselves. The problem is sooner or later that catches up with you. In Leipzig on Tuesday evening, it ended United's Champions League season.

Needing only a draw to progress to the knockout stages, Solskjaer's side were two down inside the first quarter of an hour and conceded a third after the break. The customary comeback was dramatic but in vain. A 3-2 defeat means the Europa League beckons.

It is four times in a row now in all competitions that United have conceded the first goal. Five of their six wins in the Premier League have come in that fashion, including those remarkable comebacks away to Southampton and West Ham in recent weeks.

The spirit can be applauded, the talent to turn it on marvelled at. But it is not a long-term solution. It is not a strategy. It is not something to build on, the progress of which Solskjaer often speaks. Not when the team reverts back to their lethargic ways in the very next game.

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Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admits his side 'never got going' as they lost 3-2 at RB Leipzig and crashed out of the Champions League

The sense with United is that it is individual moments of brilliance pulling them through. That was the concern Patrice Evra had expressed going into the game against Leipzig.

"I just don't want them to rely on their individuality because that is what they are doing recently, always having to come back after going down," he told Sky Sports. "Let's focus on the team. If you want to be in the top four and pass the group stage then you need a team performance. Individuality will save you for a few games but don't rely too much on it." In other words, this defeat was entirely predictable.

No doubt it was those concerns about recent performances that prompted Solskjaer to switch tactics for this game. He could have opted for the diamond midfield that helped United to a 5-0 win over these same Bundesliga opponents at Old Trafford in October.

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Instead, it was the return of the back three, not seen since the win over Paris Saint-Germain earlier that month. It has been the go-to formation for some of Solskjaer's biggest games, including, unsuccessfully, in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea in the summer.

Was that a factor in the slow start?

"We changed the shape after we went 2-0 down and looked more comfortable but I don't want to make excuses," said Harry Maguire.

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Paul Merson says Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 'got it horribly wrong' against Leipzig

Some will point to the Paul Pogba controversy on the eve of the game. The comments from his agent Mino Raiola agitating for a move away were not the ideal build-up to a match of this magnitude and perhaps the fall-out behind the scenes will be exacerbated in defeat.

But Pogba was hardly culpable here. In fact, as against West Ham at the weekend, he played an active part in the comeback - this time scoring the second after coming off the bench.

Individuals are not the problem. It is more fundamental. It is a lack of cohesion, the absence of an idea. There is no consistency but how can there be when everything is in flux?

There were double changes at half-time against Southampton and West Ham, another was made here. In fact, the only game out of the last four in which United did not make a change at the break was against PSG when they definitely should have done but instead allowed Fred to sleepwalk his way towards a red card.

It is a sign of a side always scrambling.

United are still searching for that rhythm. Reacting. It is encouraging the players still want to react. It is alarming they are unable to impose their own patterns of play.

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Such are the extraordinary demands of the schedule there is little time to address these issues on the training ground let alone wallow in the disappointment. Manchester City are the visitors to Old Trafford on Saturday and the mood could darken with another defeat.

It will need to be another patch-up job, another make-do and mend. Find a tactic to stifle and hope to conjure another big result to persuade supporters that a better way beckons.

Sometimes it works and everyone is able to laugh. This is Manchester United. We do things the hard way. And sometimes it does not work. And you wonder if it really needs to be quite this hard.

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