Manchester United’s worst start in 30 years – What’s gone wrong?

Published on: October 2, 2019
Author: Sam F
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Last Monday night saw a grudging 1-1 draw between Manchester United and Arsenal. Not only was this match a barren and uninspiring affair, but the single point earned also gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team their worst start in 30 years.

So what’s gone wrong at Manchester United, and is it any worse than when Jose Mourinho was in charge? With big question marks over their attack, and ongoing concerns over the temperament of stars like Paul Pogba, it seems that things aren’t going well at Old Trafford.

Manchester United spent the summer transfer period making big signings like Harry Maguire from Leicester City. But bagging the world’s most expensive defender does not make for successful or even entertaining football.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came to the club with plenty of good intentions. The Norwegian may have earned an excellent reputation as a Manchester United player, but unless he gets decent results soon, he may have to find a new job.

Manchester United’s 2019/20 season so far

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Triumph over Chelsea

The first match that Manchester United played was a resounding success. Winning 4-0 at home to Chelsea gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team plenty of hope, even though the final result was unfair to Chelsea. Two goals for Marcus Rashford, and a goal apiece for Anthony Martial and Daniel James indicated that United’s blunt attack had improved after the summer break.

Sobering experiences against Wolves and Palace

Following their Chelsea win, Manchester United endured a tough 1-1 draw away to Wolverhampton Wanderers that saw Anthony Martial once again getting his name on the scoresheet. However, there was trouble ahead when Solskjaer’s team went behind twice to lose 1-2 to Crystal Palace at home.

Mixed fortunes against Southampton and Leicester

The Crystal Palace defeat was notable only for the fact that Daniel James managed to score, and the young striker came to United’s rescue when they forged a 1-1 draw away to Southampton. There was one more glimpse of promise when Manchester United picked up a handy 1-0 home win over the always-tricky Leicester City despite the visitors having much more possession of the ball.

Dismal form against West Ham

However, things quickly took a downturn when United travelled to West Ham. This dismal match saw West Ham winning 2-0, but it was the lack of quality in Manchester United’s playing that signalled that something was wrong.

Uninspiring against Arsenal

Hopes were high that this week’s Old Trafford clash with Arsenal would spark United back to life. But everything from the torrential rain to lacklustre performances from key players like Jesse Lingard, Harry Maguire and Ashley Young gave the United faithful very little to be happy about.

All of which has condemned Manchester United to their worst start to a season in 30 years. With just nine points from seven fixtures, Solskjaer’s team have slumped to tenth place in the Premier League table behind the likes of West Ham, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace.

Is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to blame?

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When he replaced the widely despised Jose Mourinho last season, Solskjaer was only meant to be a temporary fix. But the Norwegian quickly boosted the team’s morale and picked up some handy results that gave a glimmer of hope that Manchester United might be bouncing back to former glories.

But recent results have proven to be a sobering experience and Solskjaer has said that the team still face a ‘steep learning curve’ in their rehabilitation from the Mourinho era. Since Solskjaer came to Old Trafford, United have picked up 49 points from 28 games. This is two fewer points than Mourinho claimed with United in his last 28 games.

Mourinho was sacked after this relatively poor run of form, and so it’s inevitable that questions are starting to be asked about Solskjaer’s future with the club. The Norwegian is undeniably under huge amounts of pressure, and it’s true that United’s lack of points hasn’t necessarily always reflected their performances on the pitch.

Although Solskjaer can be credited with introducing a fair amount of goodwill to the United side, it almost seems as though the team are playing for a draw. Gone are the days where Manchester United used to be full of quality and inspiration, and it’s bizarre to see the club scrabbling for points against smaller sides like Southampton and Wolves.

Rating the current Manchester United side

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If you compare the current Manchester United line-up to previous incarnations of the team, then it’s clear that the side are facing a glaring absence of true quality.

The Pogba question

Although Harry Maguire is the world’s most expensive defender, it could be said that Paul Pogba is the only player who can drastically alter the flow of a game. Pogba spent much of the summer trying to engineer a move to one of Europe’s big clubs like Real Madrid.

Now that this deal appears to have fallen through, he’ll hardly be likely to shake off his notorious temperament now that United are mid-table and only have the Europa League to look forward to. Thankfully David de Gea recently signed a new contract that should keep him at Old Trafford until 2023.

Emphasis on youth

Solskjaer can point to the fact that full-backs like Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw were injured in their recent clash with Arsenal, and the team did have six academy players in their starting line-up.

While youngsters like Daniel James always look capable of producing something special, such promise falls short when compared to fully formed teams like Manchester City and Liverpool.

Trouble up front?

Although Manchester United may have temporarily gotten rid of the deadweight that was Alexis Sanchez, it seems as though there are still big problems up front. The club have scored just nine times in seven Premier League fixtures which is three times less than Manchester City’s 27 goals.

Marcus Rashford is undoubtedly a very talented striker, but the 21-year old has found it difficult in getting goals this season. With three goals including two penalties so far, it’s clear that Rashford is either not getting the support he needs, or needs to find more consistency. A missed penalty in the home defeat by Crystal Palace won’t have helped matters, and it’s evident that Rashford will need to score soon.

Anthony Martial spent a few weeks out with a thigh injury and he still looks far from his best, while the 17-year old Mason Greenwood is just too young to be relied upon. All of which has made the Manchester United attack look rather toothless.

Would a new striker fix Manchester United’s problems?

Manchester United’s worst start in 30 years - What’s gone wrong?

Manchester United spent the summer transfer period actually getting rid of strikers, rather than introducing new players to their attack. Although few fans will be missing the presence of Alexis Sanchez, it’s clear that selling Romelu Lukaku might not have been the best move.

The Belgian forward was always an intimidating presence in the United attack, and although things didn’t click at Old Trafford, he was only behind Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane in the Premier League’s top goalscorers since 2012-13.

Lukaku scored 27 and 15 goals during his two seasons with Manchester United. This compared with highest totals of 13 for Marcus Rashford and 17 for Anthony Martial. So who should Ole Gunnar Solskjaer be targeting when the winter transfer period rolls around?

Paulo Dybala

Both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur were linked with the Juventus forward in the summer transfer period. Although Tottenham came close, Dybala would be a great fit for Manchester United.

With plenty of ability in scoring and creating goals, he would work great alongside Rashford. But whether Manchester United bosses would be willing to pay for Juventus’ high fee and Dybala’s image rights remains to be seen.

Timo Werner

The 23-year old has been integral to RB Leipzig’s strong form in the Bundesliga in recent seasons. Werner has bagged 82 goals in 222 games with Leipzig and his previous club Stuttgart, and even has 10 goals to his name with the German national team.

While Werner did sign a new contract with RB Leipzig in summer, there is a relatively cheap release clause that could interest the bosses at Manchester United. Recent reports have suggested that Werner could be prised from the German club for around £30 million which would definitely tempt a cash-rich club like United.

Moussa Dembele

Manchester United put in a bid of £40 million for the Lyon striker last summer. Although this amount was turned down, it’s clear that United could desperately use a forward of Dembele’s quality.

The French star notched up 15 goals and four assists in Ligue 1 football last season, and he’s already picked up six goals in seven games this season. If Dembele performs well in the Champions League, he could be too tempting for Manchester United to miss out on again.

Mario Mandzukic

An experienced striker like Mario Mandzukic would be a great asset for a relatively young side like Manchester United. The Croatian forward was linked to United over the summer, but his wage demands were thought to be excessive.

However, it’s worth noting that Mandzukic hasn’t been getting on with the Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri this season. As a result, it could be the case that the 33-year old striker makes one last dash for glory with Manchester United.

Teemu Pukki

The Norwich City forward has been in exceptional form this season. With six goals in seven games, it’s easy to see what an asset he could be up front for Manchester United.

Although it’s unlikely that Norwich will be willing to let go of such an important player, Pukki would undoubtedly relish the chance of playing at a legendary club like Manchester United. The 29-year old smashed 30 goals in all competitions last season, and while many of these were in the Championship, his goal against the likes of Manchester City shows that the Finland international can score against the toughest opponents.


Callum Wilson

Like Pukki, Callum Wilson has worked hard to become one of the Premier League’s most feared attackers. The 27-year has currently got a decent scoring record of one goal every 2.6 games which is strong for a team like Bournemouth.

The Manchester United faithful might wish to get a more glamorous striker than Wilson, especially as he has a problematic history with injuries. But with 38 goals in 98 Premier League games, the Bournemouth forward could be a no-stress addition to the beleaguered United team.

Victor Osimhen

The Nigerian star Victor Osimhen has been lighting up Ligue 1 football with Lille recently. The 20-year old has grabbed six goals and two assists in eight appearances in French league football.

So far, Osimhen has proven to have a clinical finish in front of goal and he’s also been likened to legendary forwards like Didier Drogba. But with other Premier League clubs like Chelsea being linked to the young Nigerian, it’s going to be interesting to see where Osimhen heads next.

Erling Haaland

This hugely promising forward has previously worked with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during his time with the Norwegian side Molde FK. Since then the 19-year old has moved to the Austrian club RB Salzburg and has scored a hugely impressive 11 goals in eight appearances so far this season.

As a result, it’s no surprise that European superclubs like Barcelona will be interested in the Norwegian striker. But given Solskjaer’s track record with Haaland, it seems as though a move to Old Trafford could be on the cards.