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'Weakest since I've been here': Has the Solskjaer Man Utd bubble just burst?

COMMENT: So this is it. Now we really see if there's more to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer than a bit of charm. A bit of luck...

A loss at home to PSG. That's nothing to be ashamed of. A reverse at Arsenal. Well, the performance was there. Even Solskjaer's No2, Mike Phelan, describing it as 'the defeat we needed'. But Wolves? In the Cup? As Solskjaer described it in the aftermath. For this team. For his team. This was a "big step backwards".

So now the questions are raised. The doubt creeps in. It's the time for those 'I told you so' merchants. And to be fair, they've been given their chance today. The ex-pros watching on last night described Manchester United as "flat", "lethargic" even "shattered". The league run. The Paris heroics. It had all caught up with them, went the claim.

But United had had a free week to prepare for this FA Cup tie. To sit down. Consider what went wrong at Arsenal. And go again. But they barely roused themselves out of second gear at Molineux.

So what went wrong? Well, it's a simple suggestion. But often simple is best. Solskjaer lost this tie on the team sheet.

The Norwegian should've heeded his own words going into the game. Rebuking former teammate Gary Neville when it was suggested he should sacrifice the Cup to focus solely on a top four finish. Solskjaer was right to say you don't flirt with form. Or in his words: "Momentum..."

"The more games you win, the more confidence you breed, the more hunger there is in the players.

“So I don't agree with Gary Neville when he says that teams should go out of this and this to focus on that."

But Solskjaer, for this game, withdrew those players who did possess that "momentum" to recall four of his senior absentees. Jesse Lingard, Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Anthony Martial were all named in the starting XI - and none of them, by the final whistle, justified their selection. In the meantime, the heroes of the past fortnight: Andreas Pereira, Scott McTominay and even Fred, had to make do with a place on the bench. The manager guessed wrong here. Without getting too much into the tactical weeds, a three man United midfield - with none of the three having played consistently over the past fortnight - were always going to look "flat" against the five of Nuno's Wolves.

Solskjaer hinted as much in the aftermath. The United manager admitting what we all were thinking at the final whistle.

"It's the weakest match we've played since I came here. We had no quality with ball, and not great enough pace when playing off the break. We gave the fight to them. It was a big step backwards, and we got what we deserved today," he told the general media scrum.

But did he say the same to the players? Another former teammate, Paul Ince, has long claimed Solskjaer has had it easy. That he hasn't had to lay down the law during this honeymoon period. For this column, that's just lazy, uninformed analysis from Ince. There's been plenty of evidence since December to discredit such claims.

And after his official post-match duties, Solskjaer did insist to a selected group of travelling Norwegian reporters: "The truth? I told the truth to them."

Before continuing: "You can't be sad for a long time. Everyone is disappointed. We know we played well against Arsenal, then we deserved better. Tonight we got what we deserved. We never deserved to win tonight. Sometimes the national team break comes at an appropriate time..."

An international break to reassess? Well, perhaps for the manager. But there's no reason for such thoughts to spread to the board room. Indeed, the best thing for United during this recess would be for Ed Woodward, the club's vice-chairman exec, to get on the phone to Molde chief Øystein Neerland and get the ball rolling on compensation negotiations.

It needn't be settled over the next fortnight. But confirmation coming from Molde's side of the table that a new head coach would have to be appointed with Solskjaer due to stay in Manchester would stop in it's tracks any rumour mongering that could threaten to derail this resurgence.

Will Woodward do that? Indeed, will the board instruct him to do so? Nothing's certain in this game. But the good money is on 'no'. The same as we've seen with United allowing David de Gea's contract to run down. The same we've seen with the deals of Andreas Pereira, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata. Indeed, the same as we predicted (and were told) here regarding all that hype about a big name hire as the club's first football director. This board. This vice-chairman. They have a habit of letting things meander. It's not good for those on the other end. And it's not good for the spirit within the club. But this is their way.

It could change in the coming week. But for the moment, Solskjaer is due back home in Norway to see family. There's nothing scheduled with Woodward.

This was a set back. As Solskjaer says "the weakest" since his appointment. But in those words is reason enough why he should remain the sole candidate for this job.

"We are ready to fight again after the national team break. Manchester United is always in shape in April and May. We have so many highlights to look forward to. I'm not worried about the attitude of the players now, we're going to work hard when they return."

The performance wasn't good enough. The result unacceptable. But they'll find a way through it. PSG proved, with this manager, this team has that in their locker.

For the club's sake, you hope the board believes the same.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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