Their hope lasted for five minutes. That was the time it took for Liverpool to take the lead on Sunday before Manchester United’s brutal capitulation. An hour later it was 5-0 and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was left to contemplate his future another miserable afternoon at the office.

United have now won only two of their last seven matches in all competitions. They are in danger of slipping out of the Premier League title race before the winter. Solskjaer has been in charge at Old Trafford for almost three years. He has one of the strongest squads in Europe at his disposal, including a five-time Ballon d’Or winner who is widely regarded as one of the greatest players ever. The time for excuses is over.

Some will argue Solskjaer deserves more time to get things right. United are bound to be better once Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane settle in, they say. It was always going to take time for the team to adapt to the arrival of Ronaldo, whose lack of mobility aged 36 was always going to necessitate a shift of emphasis.

Yet there are precious few signs that United are moving in the right direction. Solskjaer took over in December 2018 but there is still no discernible style with or without the ball. United’s shortcomings were ruthlessly exploited by Liverpool at the weekend. The Reds played through the Red Devils’ midfield with alarming ease and the gaps between United’s lines only grew larger as the game wore on. Jurgen Klopp’s side had a clear plan. Solskjaer’s did not.

We are not even a quarter of the way through the campaign yet. United, for all the doom and gloom, are eight points off top spot. A place in the knockout stage of the Champions League is theirs for the taking. The League Cup is gone but the FA Cup offers an opportunity to win a first piece of silverware since 2017.

United can still save their season – but only if they act quickly and decisively. Antonio Conte is out of work having left Inter at the end of last term. He is, in many ways, the anti-Solskjaer: a spiky, difficult character who is not afraid to make big decisions. He is also a fantastic coach who has shown time and time again that he can make an instant impact upon being handed the reins at a club.

Conte took Juventus from seventh to first in his debut campaign in Turin. He led a Chelsea side who had finished the previous season in 10th place to the Premier League title in 2016/17. He inspired Inter to Serie A glory in his second year at the San Siro.

Conte is a difficult personality. He would probably not last more than three years at Old Trafford. He may well have burnt too many bridges by the end of his second season at the helm. But the Italian knows what it takes to create a winning team. He would give United an identity based on the collective rather than individuals. His appointment would certainly not be welcomed by Thomas Tuchel, Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp, all of whom would recognise United as more serious title contenders under the Italian’s guidance.

Solskjaer will always be a United legend due to his achievements as a player. He has done a reasonable job in the managerial hot seat up to now, and the club is clearly in a better position in October 2021 than it was in December 2018. But with Conte available and almost certainly willing to take charge at Old Trafford, the United hierarchy must ask themselves one question: under which manager do we have a better chance of winning?

 


 

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