Cristiano Ronaldo wasted little time in making a rallying call to his new Manchester United teammates. Having secured an unexpected return to Old Trafford, it was widely reported that the 36-year-old, considered one of the game’s greats, gave a speech in which he claimed standards would have to be lifted for the team to fulfil its potential.
One wonders how closely Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was listening. After two-and-a-half years of building, the arrival of Ronaldo, along with that of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, changed the landscape for the Norwegian who is all of a sudden expected to win major honours this season. Why else would these world class players have been signed?
Standards, however, have not been lifted. In fact, United have lost three of their last four fixtures with defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday dropping the Old Trafford to fourth place in the Premier League table. They are also on the back foot in the Champions League having lost to Young Boys and are already out of the Carabao Cup after the mid-week loss to West Ham.
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Even when Manchester United have won this season, they have been largely unconvincing. They needed a Man of the Match performance David de Gea to claim all three points against Wolves, were pegged back by Newcastle United before staging a late surge and had a de Gea penalty save in stoppage time to secure a win over West Ham.
The parallels between Solskjaer’s United and Frank Lampard’s Chelsea are growing stronger with every passing game. Hired on the basis of his standing with the club’s fanbase, Lampard embarked on a rebuild of the Chelsea squad that had the club heading in the right direction.
That was until a blockbuster summer transfer window which saw a number of top tier players arrive at Stamford Bridge. With this flurry of signings, the expectations of Lampard and team changed. While they had previously been afforded patience to gradually grow, now Chelsea were expected to be the finished article.
Lampard struggled to find the right shape and system to harness the likes of Kai Havertz and Timo Werner who were deemed too good, and too expensive, to be left out of the lineup. As results and performances worsened, Lampard blamed referees and media pressure for his own shortcomings as a tactician and a coach before he was ultimately sacked.
Solskjaer now appears to be suffering an eerily similar fate. He too had rebuilt his team, but is faltering now that incremental progress is no longer deemed good enough. As was the case for Lampard as Chelsea boss, Solskjaer is being scrutinised for his apparent lack of tactical nous. His man management skills aren’t enough.
Sancho has become Solskjaer’s Havertz. Signed from the Bundesliga, where he’d shone over a number of seasons, for a hefty transfer fee, there doesn’t appear to be a clear role for Sancho in United’s first team - he didn’t even make it off the bench for the defeat to Aston Villa.

Kortney Hause celebrates his goal for Aston Villa, Manchester United vs Aston Villa, Premier League, Old Trafford, Manchester, September 25, 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

Balance has become a problem, with United frequently too top-heavy when Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba are played together in midfield. Pogba has been used on the left side more than once this season, but then this denies a starting spot to one of United’s top level wide forwards, including Sancho.
Lampard’s shortcomings were further underlined by the immediate success enjoyed by Thomas Tuchel as his successor and there is a growing sense that Manchester United, who boast their strongest squad since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, need another manager to accelerate progress.
At the time, Manchester United’s summer activity represented the perfect transfer window for Solskjaer who was handed the talent to mount a genuine title challenge. However, it may, in retrospect, be remembered as the beginning of the end for the Norwegian as the club’s manager.
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