Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces the unenviable task of eliciting a response from his team in Saturday’s Premier League derby with Manchester City following their UEFA Champions League exit at the hands of RB Leipzig on Tuesday night.
United paid for a sloppy start against last season’s semifinalists and exited Europe’s elite club competition after a 3-2 defeat that piled the pressure on Solskjaer, with some angry fans calling for Mauricio Pochettino to replace him.
Argentine Pochettino has been out of work since being sacked by Tottenham Hotspur last November and has regularly been linked with the job at Old Trafford, where calls for change are likely to grow without a big result against City.
But former United defender Phil Neville said dropping down to the Europa League was not a disaster for the club and backed Solskjaer to keep his job.
“Saturday is a big moment for the manager and players,” Neville told the BBC. “The narrative from inside the club is far, far different to that outside the club, where it seems there’s a total witch hunt to get this boy out of the job.
“There are United teams in the past with better managers than Solskjaer – like Alex Ferguson – which have gone out at this stage. It does happen, it has happened.”
Another ex-United defender, Rio Ferdinand, was critical of the team’s defence after a vulnerable display at Leipzig.
“They looked like a team that didn’t know how to play with a back five,” Ferdinand told BT Sport.
“They were being overrun totally in midfield. United need to have a plan. A strategy of playing consistently so players can start to build relationships based off of memory, based on knowing where people are going to be.”
Ferdinand’s former teammate Paul Scholes, a stern critic of United managers following Ferguson’s departure in 2013, said Solskjaer was still struggling to build an identity.
“… None of us knew how they’d play, what system they were going to do, how they were going to do it, we had no idea. It’s very difficult for Ole to find it because the team’s so inconsistent,” he said.