Sky Sports News reporter James Cooper analyses Manchester United’s defeat to Bournemouth which saw Eddie Howe’s side leapfrog Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s in the table, as their three-game winning run came to an end at the Vitality Stadium.
This was the week, 33 years ago, when United brought in Sir Alex Ferguson as their new manager, a decision that paved the way for 13 Premier League titles.
While he would probably agree with the consensus that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team is underperforming, the next six days will give his latest successor the chance to show that the three-game winning sequence brought to an end by Bournemouth was not a blip.
United had beaten Bournemouth on each of their last three visits to the Vitality Stadium and in losing on Saturday saw Eddie Howe’s side move above them in the table
This was not as lacklustre a performance as the defeat at Newcastle but was symptomatic of the anonymous displays that are starting to frustrate and annoy United’s travelling support.
Yes, there is effort and huff and puff but still no clear identity to what the team are trying to do, what strategy they are attempting to employ, and why footballers who do have real talent cannot show it on a consistent basis.
The cutting edge and cohesion glimpsed at Norwich was not in evidence on the south coast, nor was the single-mindedness or determination that provided a deserved victory at Stamford Bridge.
Manchester United last registered a Premier League clean sheet in the 1-0 win over Leicester on September 14, seven weeks later, one of their academy products, Josh King, revelled in the space he was given in the penalty area and punished his former club with the only goal of the game.
A home tie in the Carabao Cup against League Two side Colchester is as good a draw as Solskjaer could have hoped for with a real opportunity to seize a semi-final place.
United’s current form more suited to cup competition?
Perhaps it’s the cup competitions that this current crop of players are proving they are best equipped for rather than the longer drawn-out grind of a Premier League season?
In the last campaign, United’s most eye-catching performances came in the cups, victories in Turin and Paris in the Champions League, while they also dispatched Arsenal and Chelsea in the FA Cup but since they appointed Solskjaer as a permanent manager he’s been unable to secure consecutive victories in the league.
Europa League games may not have been the most inspiring this season, with just two goals to celebrate, but only United and Sevilla are yet to concede in the group stage.
On top of that, United are unbeaten in their last 10 Europa League games at home and their run of 14 matches without defeat is only four short of Chelsea’s tournament record.
Partizan Belgrade are the next visitors to Old Trafford on Thursday and victory over Savo Milosevic’s side would seal a place in the knockout phase and add to the evidence that United might enjoy happier days in the cup competitions, it’s something Jose Mourinho seemed to seize upon in his first season in charge as he snared the League Cup and the Europa League.
But such dreams of further silverware seem a little far-fetched in a week when Brighton will also be welcomed to Old Trafford, sitting two points above United after back-to-back Premier League wins, and perhaps harbouring ambitions of a first-ever victory at the Theatre of Dreams.
After four away games in a row, the lights of home beckon for United and while the week will be dominated by Sunday’s showdown between their fiercest of rivals, two games at Old Trafford might just give us a clearer idea of where this travel-weary group of players is going.
The games and trips have come thick and fast with not much time on the training ground either, even Solskjaer admitted the value of the last international break as an opportunity to get as many of the players together and on-message and the performance against Liverpool bore that out.
Learning from history
Thirty-three years ago United suffered a 4-1 League Cup defeat at Southampton that saw the 14th man to manage the club, Ron Atkinson, leave Old Trafford.
Atkinson managed just 13 points from his opening 13 league games, in the process only recording three victories.
It was a very different football club with very different expectations considering they had not won the league title for 19 years.
Fast forward to 2019 and Solskjaer has suffered a similarly grim autumn, albeit not quite as bad as that experienced by Atkinson.
He has secured 13 points from his opening 11 games, and with the Premier League table taking shape, United find themselves in 10th spot, 10 points off the top four and 18 points shy of the leaders Liverpool.
Solskjaer has overseen just three wins too.
Saturday’s trip to Bournemouth proved to be another bump in the road that put paid to a brief hiatus of three wins on the bounce in three different competitions.