After Manchester United’s rude awakening at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will now truly be tested in how he, and his players, are able to bounce back from their first defeat under the current regime.
The Red Devils were always going to lose at some point and it was no almighty shock that their first defeat was against one of the favourites – currently at 6/1 to go all the way with BetVictor – for the European trophy.
Thomas Tuchel outsmarted the Norwegian manager and deployed a game plan that nullified United’s attacking threats for the 90 minutes.
Perceptions of a team can be changed in a matter of days and, luckily for Manchester United, they have the chance to rectify their disappointing European performance with their fixture against Chelsea in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Monday evening.
Going to Stamford Bridge and recording a win has never been the Red Devils’ forte, but with Maurizio Sarri’s men in such poor form, Solskjaer should feel confident enough to return to winning ways and make his players put in a performance that warrants progression into the next round.
United – who are 5/1 to win the English domestic competition with Ladbrokes – now find themselves under a bit of pressure, knowing that two defeats on the bounce, against opposition they should be competitive with, could be cause for some major overreaction from fans and the wider media.
Solskjaer has done incredibly well to win 10 of the 12 matches he has managed since taking over in late December, which included overcoming Tottenham and Arsenal away from home.
United's Questionable Squad Depth
By and large, United are not the finished article, and lack a considerable amount of quality in squad depth compared to their European rivals.
While United have failed to win against the Blues at Stamford Bridge since 2012, the Red Devils will not have a better chance to progress into the quarter finals of the FA Cup given the form Sarri’s players are showing.
⚽️ #FACup outright odds heading into the weekend:— Bookies UK (@bookies_uk) February 15, 2019
💙 Man City - 5/4
🔴 Man Utd - 6/1
🔵 Chelsea - 11/2
🐺 Wolves - 8/1
🦅 Palace - 10/1
🐝 Watford - 16/1
🏆 Who you backing?
After their demolition against Manchester City which ended in pure humiliation, Chelsea will certainly be embarrassed by their individual and collective performances.
That can work in one of two ways, of course, with the Blues potentially coming out fighting, but Sarri’s men have been known to sulk when the going gets tough.
The injuries suffered by Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard in the midweek European fixture have not helped the Red Devils’ cause, however.
With the way Manchester United want to play in their expansive formation and quick one-touch counter attacking style, the loss of the two forwards has thrown a spanner in the works for Solskjaer.
Visitors Need Intensity and Bullishness
Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez do not offer the same sort of intensity and bullishness to their play as their counterparts, which is why the Norwegian manager has openly admitted that he needs to find a new way to play when he is not prized with Martial and Lingard’s availability.
Romelu Lukaku could be the answer to that, as he showed against Arsenal in the FA Cup last month with his two assists.
Operating down the right-hand side, the Belgium international proved to be a handful when crossing the ball into the box.
He provided a nuisance in the space between the centre back and left back, while also interchanging nicely with his forward line and appearing through the middle.
A top four finish, currently priced at 1/1 with the best Premier League bookmakers, is still of absolute paramount importance, but fans will want to see Solskjaer’s pragmatism heading into this crunch clash against Chelsea.
Fans, as well as the club’s board, are still undecided with who the permanent manager should be come the end of the season, but this would be another boost to the Norwegian's credentials if he manages to record United’s first win at Stamford Bridge since 2012.
If Manchester United can progress into the quarter-finals, then the feel-good factor will be restored and, depending on who they are matched up against In the next round, they'd feel confident against most of the remaining teams in the competition.
The most important quality that Solskjaer now has to show as a manager is his ability to remain calm and composed.
Chelsea are a team that will be looking to lay down a marker after their previous results, and so the Norwegian needs to prove to everyone that he can be smart enough to quell the Blues’ attacks and find a way in behind their defensive line.