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Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s substitution strategy at Manchester United is becoming a problem – Samuel Luckhurst

Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s substitution strategy at Manchester United is becoming a problem – Samuel Luckhurst

Harry Maguire entered the press room for debrief after the match before his manager. Ole Gunnar Solskjær named another Harry. “Harry Hindsight is a very good player,” he remarked. Also a very good leader.

Solskjær actually referred to Jesse Lingard’s blind back pass rather than his replacements. There were five of them in Bern, and almost all of them contributed to a wrong defeat in extra time.

Diogo Dalot had to rather offset Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s expulsion as United could not reunite by moving a starter to right back. Where it started to go wrong was with the introduction of Raphael Varane at the break.

Solskjær spoke to Nemanja Matic when the United bench made for the tunnel, only Michael Carrick informed Varane that he would come on the field. Varane spent half the time walking away with balls pinging into the area by Darren Fletcher, a sign of things to come.

United had decided they needed Varane’s air presence in Young Boys’ dependence on crosses. “Most of their chances came late in the first half when we played a back four,” Maguire explained. “And we could not really get out to stop the crosses, we could not defend the box well enough with the number of bodies they threw forward.”

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Maguire felt ‘it was much better when we went for a back three or back five’. Maybe so, but there was a mental and tactical shift. It increased more pressure on United and Cristiano Ronaldo was marooned in front.

In Young Boys coach David Wagner’s first famous win over United with Huddersfield, Victor Lindelof was goal-oriented and guilty of both goals. Jose Mourinho once thought Lindelof was ‘not that good in the air’ when he misjudged a header in the warm-up at West Ham. The brave change would have been to pull Lindelof back to Varane.

Sunshine would never do that, and Donny van de Beek was the comfortable autumn guy. “We could have spread more,” Solskjær admitted. “And sent one of the midfielders higher up in support of Cristiano because he was lonely up there.” Van de Beek could have fulfilled that role.

From the moment Wan-Bissaka looked red, United played for a 1-0 victory. Then they drew 1-1. They got none of them, and Solskjær got what he deserved. United had two attempts on goal – both hit by Ronaldo – and the second was in the 25th minute.

Matic made a good effort at breaking through on the right, but the home team’s left defense cleared the ball to a corner. There was little logic to Lingard’s arrival at the same time, and three of his four passes were to an opponent, the last the most fatal.

Not since Graeme Carrick’s appearance in his brother’s testimony has there been a more pointless replacement than Anthony Martial’s in the 89th minute. Fred took his place as he had benefited from Matic’s presence and United were safe. Martial received the ball once and collected it for a throw-in.

There was no rhyme or reason to bring Martial
There was no rhyme or reason to bring Martial

It is easy to forget that Solskjær was in favor of the Premier League reintroducing five replacements. Time and time again, the ‘super-sub’ who plays a cropper comes with his substitutions, and one did not need Harry Hindsight to express concerns about his changes in Bern.

Solskjærs checkered record with changes stretches back to the first cracks that formed when he was still caretaker. In the boring draw with Liverpool in February 2019, United players fell like flies, and one of them – Lingard – had come on, but his femur forced 18 minutes inside, so he left again.

Against Southampton last year, Solskjær called Eric Bailly down from Sir Bobby Charlton Stand in extra time, and then someone realized he had made four substitutions in the three-game quota. Southampton equalized from a corner where Maguire looked to mark Wan-Bissaka.

In the penultimate home game of 2019-20, United were locked at 1-1 with West Ham and the only attacking change was Odion Ighalo for Marcus Rashford in the 85th minute. Only one Sevilla goal spurred Solskjær to a change – in the 87th minute – in the Europa League semi-final. Sevilla stuck to Cologne.

15 times in the last election period, Solskjær left substitutes unused; two in the goalless stalemate with Manchester City, Amad at Crystal Palace. Five substitutions were allowed in the FA Cup, but there was no change at United until the 73rd minute against West Ham in the fifth round. In the difficult 1-0 victory over the same opposition in the league, United did not make a single substitution.

Solskjaer has suffered seven defeats in 11 Champions League matches as United manager and they are filled with inexplicable leadership in the game. Fred was left against Paris Saint-Germain when he should have been sent off and he was finally in the second half, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe defenders-went into the match with United 3-0 down in RB Leipzig and United was burned in Bern.

Peace for Greenwood was the first change
Peace for Greenwood was the first change

After the Europa League’s last disaster class, Solskjær said that the first replacement was ‘difficult’. It came in the 100th minute. and United’s four other substitutions were passed on in either the 116th minute or the 123rd minute. Everyone was about to take a penalty kick in the shootout, only Solskjær failed to introduce a goalkeeper who was able to save a penalty kick.

Lindelof for Varane would have raised eyebrows on Tuesday night, but it would have improved a 10-man team and maintained the balance, which was compromised as soon as United switched to a defensive trident.

Solskjaer have been more successful with substitutes when they were in crucial form: United recovered from a deficit at the break at Southampton and West Ham for consecutive weeks last season by making changes at half-time. Alex Telles was too careful with the game goalless in the Wolves, so he was hooked on Luke Shaw at the break, and United won it in Fergie time. Interval contestants Amad and Paul Pogba were goal scorers and match winners against Milan.

Hooking Telles for Pogba was an innovative shift in the group stage victory at PSG last year, a tactical tweak and a momentum shift with a game-changer on the pitch. Pogba supplied Rashford with the ball to the winner.

There was no need for Harry Hindsight that night.


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