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Unravelling United plumb the depths

China Daily | Updated: 2019-10-09 09:26
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks dejected as he waves to the away fans after Sunday's 1-0 English Premier League loss at Newcastle United. REUTERS

Relegation battle now a possibility for Solskjaer's side

LONDON - How far will Manchester United sink?

Just two points above the relegation places, the one-time powerhouse of English soccer is without an away win since March and is enduring its worst start to a league season in 30 years.

Old Trafford has witnessed an incredible decline in fortunes since Alex Ferguson stepped down in 2013.

Under Ferguson, United finished in the top three every year from 1992 to 2013, winning 13 league titles. In the six seasons since, the Red Devils have finished in the top four just twice.

But while it kept its head above water in the immediate aftermath of the Scot's departure, winning a handful of cups and finishing second under Jose Mourinho, United is now in the middle of a full-blown crisis under beleaguered boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Mourinho, speaking a few weeks after his rancorous departure from Old Trafford last year, spoke about how taking the club to second in the table in 2017-18 was one of his best achievements.

Eyebrows were raised as Solskjaer oversaw a dramatic turnaround in fortunes during his caretaker spell at the helm, but the wheels started to come off towards the end of last season.

A 1-0 loss at Newcastle, thanks to a winner from 19-year-old debutant Matty Longstaff, on Sunday left United languishing in 12th spot in the Premier League - 15 points behind leader Liverpool.

Goalkeeper David de Gea apologized to United supporters, saying it was the toughest time he had experienced since moving to Old Trafford in 2011.

"It's difficult to say something. Sorry to the fans, we will keep fighting for sure," the Spaniard told Sky Sports. "We will come back but at the moment we are in a difficult situation."

No goal threat

United is woefully short of midfield spark and clinical finishers. Just two goals in its past five games is part of a longer-term trend, with Solskjaer's men scoring more than once in a game just three times in their past 23 matches.

The risk in allowing forwards Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to depart to Inter Milan without signing a replacement has massively backfired, with an out-of-sorts Marcus Rashford shouldering the attacking burden alone in the absence of injured Anthony Martial.

Over-reliant on a crop of raw youngsters, Solskjaer pointed to a spate of injuries after the Newcastle defeat but said it was not an excuse for his team's lame display.

United has spent hundreds of millions of pounds under four different managers since Ferguson's departure and has the highest payroll in the Premier League, but is still miles behind rivals Liverpool and Manchester City.

Former United and England defender Gary Neville said the club's hierarchy should take responsibility for the mess, saying it is getting the pain "it deserves" for poor recruitment decisions at board level.

"They (the club board) have cocked this up over many years," Neville told Sky Sports. "They've cocked it up. They are responsible for this."

Last month executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, himself on the fans' firing line along with American owners the Glazers, pledged his faith in Solskjaer and the Old Trafford hierarchy will be wary of yet another managerial change.

But since the Norwegian was appointed permanently in late March, United has won just 17 points in 16 Premier league matches, the fourth-worst tally among the 17 ever-present teams in that time.

United remains one of the richest and biggest clubs in the world but its luster is rapidly fading.

Liverpool, which dominated English soccer during the 1970s and 1980s, has taken 30 years to get back to the top.

Ferguson famously quipped his biggest challenge at United was to knock Liverpool "off their perch" in his early years in charge - and he did.

"We are back on our perch, as we famously say," Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore said last month.

Liverpool is flying high after winning its sixth European Cup last season and opening up an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

Next up for Liverpool is a visit to Old Trafford after the international break, when the Merseysiders will relish compounding United's pain.

Agence France - Presse

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