Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has probably got used to the noise around his suitability as Manchester United manager now, but he might have been hoping that he could at least get through the first fortnight of this season before the debate resurfaced.
Instead, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher found themselves discussing United on Monday Night Football after the first dropped points of the season a day earlier, in the 1-1 draw at Southampton.
If Solskjaer was hoping to relax in front of the TV on Monday and tuned into Sky Sports, then he’d have quickly been regretting it. As is the style on Monday Night Football, this was hardly overt criticism of Solskjaer, but it was the clearest indication yet that he will be judged by different standards this summer.
For two-and-a-half years the Norwegian has been able to live by a mantra of progress at Old Trafford. From sixth to third to second and a total of 74 points last season, but progress from there can only mean one thing.
When United committed around £116million this summer to sign Solskjaer’s top two targets in Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho it was always going to increase the pressure on the manager. That investment has to lead to a title challenge at the very least, even if Neville believes United shouldn’t stop there this window.
The former right-back made the point that United should be going all out to sign Harry Kane this window, although after the draw at St Mary’s there’s probably an argument a defensive midfielder is an even more pressing matter.
But United’s squad contains enough stellar names to win a league. Give that squad to Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp and you would expect them to find a way to cover over the shortcomings and go very close to winning the league. Let’s not forget City have won three titles without a left-back and Liverpool won the league with a midfield that was workmanlike and contributed little in terms of goals and assists.
And that is what Solskjaer has to do this season, to prove he belongs in the company of Guardiola, Klopp and Thomas Tuchel. Neville compared the similarities between Solskjaer and Klopp’s first 99 games last night and their records are almost identical, but it was then that Klopp took Liverpool to a higher plane. Solskjaer now has to do that with United.
“I am sure that Ole’s backroom team and the board are looking at it and saying, ‘He is building something, this is what Jurgen Klopp was doing at Liverpool in his first three seasons,'” Neville said on Monday Night Football.
“However, just look at the points that Jurgen Klopp gained from season three to season four.
Sign up to our free United newsletter
Get the latest breaking Manchester United transfer news and analysis every day direct to your inbox with our free MUFC newsletter
“That was the point when Alisson came in, Virgil van Dijk came in, and they went into turbo boost and delivered one of the best performances that you will ever see.
“I know they were beaten by Manchester City that season but it was a staggering performance by Liverpool – 97 points and 99 points two seasons on the bounce.
“Manchester United with 74 points in the third season, Liverpool with 75. Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer get the 20 extra points to win the title?
“My gut feeling is [ Sancho and Varane ] won’t have the same impact on Manchester United as Alisson and Van Dijk to get them up to that 90-95 points they will need to win the league. I think they will still be short.”
Neville also addressed the questions that persist around Solskjaer, who is hasn’t yet delivered a trophy.
“With the manager, I still think you could argue he has to prove himself quickly because I still think the Europa League final was a bad one. That is going to hang if something doesn’t go right this season,” he said.
“But I believe Ole deserves another 12 to 18 months with building because Manchester United have tried the Jose Mourinho quickfire hit job and it has not worked. Louis van Gaal, going for a different style of play, it has not worked. It failed miserably.”
But the fact this was even a debate shows Solskjaer has to deliver this season, even if he has just signed a new three-year deal.
United will need to add around 16 points at least to realistically have a chance of winning the title this season, which is why a draw at St Mary’s can result in a mini-inquest when it’s still August.
Solskjaer will have to get used to the noise, because if he didn’t know it already, he knows now that he will be judged by different standards this season.