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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Key questions for Man Utd boss ahead of Tottenham clash

Watch Tottenham vs Manchester United live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm; we evaluate how Man Utd manager could tweak tactics and system for showdown on Saturday; Solskjaer's side suffered humiliating 5-0 defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday

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Manchester United face Tottenham live on Sky Sports this Saturday with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in desperate need of a positive result following the humiliating 5-0 defeat to Liverpool - but what are the tactical options?

Spurs are sat sixth in the league table - edging United by one point and one place.

United are a young side but jam-packed with global superstars, while Spurs have bedded a new defence and started to inject youth in other areas - but neither Solskjaer nor Nuno Espirito Santo can mitigate poor results with a 'rebuild' pass.

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The next three fixtures could define Solskjaer's future at the helm, according to reports. So what will the Norwegian look to tweak for the game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes look dejected during Man Utd's humiliation
Image: Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes look dejected during Man Utd's humiliation

Rekindle attacking superiority


United have few problems in attacking areas. Solskjaer's side rank among the top five clubs in England for goals, expected goals, creating chances, shots and crosses, while Spurs rank 14th or lower across those metrics.

In terms of creating chances, Spurs have relied heavily on Sergio Reguilon and Heung-Min Son down the left flank, while the majority of United's key passes have come from central areas - typically from Bruno Fernandes.


But Solskjaer might look to force the wingers wider and carry the ball closer to the byline in an attempt to stretch Spurs' deeper block.

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Indeed, almost all of the assisted goals Tottenham have conceded have come from passes on the edges of the penalty box into central areas, suggesting trickery down wide channels, willing runners and movement could be the key to success.


The interactive graphic below emphasises United's counter style, travelling upfield at a league-topping 17.2m per second during passing sequences, on average.

Their 20 direct attacks are just one shy of Leeds, Leicester and Liverpool and almost twice the tally recorded by their upcoming hosts.

But, like Liverpool, United can also be patient in possession en-route to goal, with their 29 build-up attacks ranking behind only Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea; again, Spurs have achieved almost half this number.

So Spurs would be expected to sit deeper, have less progressive possession and look to nullify spaces for United to counter into or play through, while restricting Fernandes' ability to fire defence-splitting passes from range.

Address defensive issues

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (AP)
Image: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have been leaky at the back

United have excelled in attack but struggled defensively. Conversely, Spurs have remained relatively solid at the back but failed to fire up top. So the outcome of this game could rest upon Nuno's desire to expose United's cracks.

Both teams have received widespread criticism for their lack of running and pressing this season - but United should remain confident they can win this particular battle.

Solskjaer's side rank 16th for pressing and 14th for distance covered this term - but Spurs rank even lower at 19th and rock-bottom, respectively.

However, United are severely lacking in defensive solidity and midfield mettle this term, ranking 20th for tackles, winning duels, making errors leading to shots and ceding possession in defensive areas leading to shots.


The graphic below shows which areas of the pitch teams are most penetrable and reveals United have been weakest in and around their own box, while also being prone to being bypassed in the opposition half up to the penalty box.


United will want to reinforce these areas to maintain possession and prevent any counter-attack threat. Fernandes could drop closer to the sitting midfielders, while Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard and Jadon Sancho press hardest from the front.

Defensively, Luke Shaw might look to leave less space between himself and Harry Maguire - to help bolster an error-prone and permeable area in recent weeks, which came under even greater scrutiny last Sunday.


Does Cristiano Ronaldo make way for Cavani up top or move to the wing? Will the trickery and pressing talents of Sancho and Lingard tempt Solskjaer into a reshuffle among his favoured frontline?

Can United plug the midfield gaps and defensive errors? Ultimately, can the Norwegian grind out a result and preserve his future at the helm?

Pogba absence saves big call

Man Utd
Image: Paul Pogba is suspended for the Tottenham game

Sky Sports' Adam Bate:

The debate about whether Manchester United should play Paul Pogba in a deeper midfield role has been a theme of the season. His suspension thus removes one of the bigger decisions that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had to make about his team shape.

After beginning the season with Scott McTominay and Fred in midfield, he moved Pogba back there against Wolves and Newcastle, shifted him out left for the games against West Ham and Aston Villa before dropping him completely for the draw with Everton.

Pogba returned in the centre alongside Nemanja Matic against Leicester before both men were dropped as Solskjaer went back to McTominay and Fred against Liverpool. In Pogba's enforced absence, dare the United manager stick with the same two away to Spurs?

It is not an appetising choice but without Pogba it reduces the chance of more fundamental change - such as a potentially more solid 4-3-3 formation. Teaming Matic with McTominay and Fred would appear a non-starter so United risk being exposed in midfield again.

Only Leeds United have conceded more chances from fast breaks this season and this is likely to be a vulnerability that Tottenham will look to exploit. They have the players to do so - Harry Kane had more attempts from fast breaks than anyone else last season.


Pressure on the ball is one of the most effective ways of preventing such counter-attacks but that has been another theme of United's disappointing start to the season. Can Solskjaer really fashion a forward line that can be expected to defend from the front?

Cristiano Ronaldo is the top scorer and a global icon, Bruno Fernandes has been the team's best player this past two years and Mason Greenwood is the golden boy. The best pressing options? Probably Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard and Jadon Sancho. It would be some call.

More likely, Solskjaer will ask his team to redouble their efforts. It is a risk because it could be seen as failing to heed the warnings - the decision to pick the same team that scrambled to victory over Atalanta proved a miserable one as they were thrashed by Liverpool.

But he may take the view that any solution that does not involve Ronaldo and Fernandes is not solution at all. His challenge is to transform what has looked a disparate bunch of late into a cohesive unit, turn the individuals into a team. And it has to happen fast.

Man Utd: The damning stats - Spending cranks pressure

The contrast in application on the pitch between the United and Liverpool players was polarised on Sunday, which also raises eyebrows about the level of investment spent on signings.

Solskjaer has overseen a league-topping £312m net spend, while Klopp has actually made a £3.6m profit from transfer deals since the winter window of 2019.

United's lavish spending this summer on Jadon Sancho (£73m), Raphael Varane (£41m) and Cristiano Ronaldo (£19.7m) contrasts significantly with Liverpool's £36m outlay on Ibrahima Konate - a fee Liverpool balanced by selling Harry Wilson, Xherdan Shaqiri, Taiwo Awoniyi and others.

Solskjaer has no case for the defence

Sky Sports' Nick Wright:

In hindsight, this outcome was entirely predictable.

The Premier League's most lethal attack - Liverpool had scored 30 goals in their previous nine games in all competitions - against a defence that had shipped six goals in the last week and kept one clean sheet in the last six months.

"It's what I said," said Gary Neville after Mohamed Salah had rattled home Liverpool's fourth, "the minute they play a proper team, this is what's going to happen. If half-decent teams are scoring so many goals against them, proper teams will batter them."

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Gary Neville was stunned by the level of Manchester United's performance in the 5-0 thrashing by Liverpool at Old Trafford

Still, though, the extent of the collapse felt extraordinary. This Manchester United side have shown a knack for conjuring up results when they need them most but not this time. Not when they allow their opponent a four-on-one attack inside five minutes.

The second goal came just eight minutes after the first and it was another exhibition in shambolic defending. Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw lost their heads, and Trent Alexander-Arnold, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka failed to track the onrushing Diogo Jota.

It got worse. Much worse.

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What's gone wrong with Jadon Sancho?

Sky Sports' Adam Bate:

Manchester United winger Jadon Sancho (PA)

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has pressing issues, in more ways than one. As a result, in the aftermath of Manchester United's humiliating 5-0 defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday, Jadon Sancho might not be his immediate priority.

And yet, if Solskjaer is continuing to look to the longer term, and his comments about being "too close to give up now" suggest he still believes there is a route to glory here, Sancho sitting out the game as an unused substitute does not reflect well on anyone.

While the knock-on effects of Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival have brought complications, there can be some sympathy. United were in a tricky position. Perhaps it was a chance too good to turn down. But Sancho is the club's £73m summer signing. Solskjaer's signing.

The acquisition of Sancho was almost two years in the making. There should be no such tactical conundrum, no excuse for any lack of clarity regarding his role in the team.

So, why does it all feel so off the cuff? It is as if there is confusion that one of Europe's most gifted young players cannot just turn up, beat four men and solve everything for this side. Disappointment that he has been unable to conjure something up from nothing.

Eleven appearances, no goals and no assists.

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Carra: Man Utd need a better manager

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Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher debate the future of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following Manchester United's humbling by Liverpool

Jamie Carragher says Manchester United need a better manager than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in order to challenge Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea.

Manchester United need a better manager. Ole is not a manager for Manchester United. He's done really well but you need someone to take them to the next level.
Jamie Carragher

"I think Ole has done a good job but to take on Klopp, Tuchel and Pep, Manchester United need a better manager," he said.

"I wasn't saying that on Monday in a disrespectful way, I feel for Ole - that will be the darkest day in his career. I don't want to get involved in a slanging match, I know Ole said something back and rightly so. I'm not comfortable saying someone should be sacked - but we are comfortable saying Fred is not good enough or Scott McTominay is not good enough so I do not feel too bad saying Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not good enough.

"Manchester United need a better manager. Ole is not a manager for Manchester United. He's done really well but you need someone to take them to the next level. Unfortunately, Solskjaer is not Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola or Thomas Tuchel. It's staring you in the face."

Man Utd's gruelling run

October 30: Tottenham (a) - Premier League, kick-off 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports

November 2: Atalanta (a) - Champions League, kick-off 8pm

November 6: Man City (h) - Premier League, kick-off 12.30pm, live on Sky Sports

November 20: Watford (a) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm

November 23: Villarreal (a) - Champions League, kick-off 5.45pm

November 28: Chelsea (a) - Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports

December 2: Arsenal (h) - Premier League, kick-off 8.15pm

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