“We’re on the right track” is fast becoming as excruciating on the ears as Van Gaal’s philosophy ramblings, which were comparable to watching a YouTube compilation of blokes getting hit in the nuts: enjoyable at first but gradually gets harder and harder to watch before you turn it off, delete the app, cry and then never leave the house again without sporting a jockstrap.
Both catchphrases share further similarity in that they are/were usually heard following an embarrassing and abject United defeat. Credit to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer though as those words were nowhere to be heard following the Burnley disaster, a performance that stank so badly they’ll be handing out nose pegs in the Stretford End in the hope that it will prevent fans from leaving early.
He did, however, draw comparisons with Klopp’s first few seasons at Liverpool and pleaded for more time at the wheel. I think it’s fair to say that every single United fan wants this to work – or at least did – even the hashtag keyboard bashers who have only seen Old Trafford on their computer screens. But there’s a growing concern that it really isn’t working, and even the hardcore Top Reds and Ole’s ex-team mates are beginning to question whether the now weary-faced assassin can return the club to former glories.
Following the trouncing at Anfield, Roy Keane passionately stuck up for Ole arguing he does deserve more time, just as Pep and Klopp were given time when they came to the Premier League. Perhaps both of these managers were afforded an easing in period as their CVs glistened so brightly. We shouldn’t forget that Ole’s managerial mantelpiece isn’t empty, and his Wikipedia ‘Honours’ section certainly reads better than saviour-in-waiting Pochettino’s, although it would be near impossible to convince even someone who had been living on a desert island for their entire existence with absolutely zero football knowledge that a couple of Norwegian league titles and the Lancashire Senior Cup are comparable with European Cups and Bundesligas.
Maybe Ole’s right in saying he deserves the time that other managers have had but Klopp probably wasn’t the best example to draw comparisons with.
When Liverpool appointed Klopp it wasn’t a gamble; they’d spent the best part of a year doing their research on him, studying his style of play, his personality and the xG (expected goals) data of his Dortmund team to truly paint a picture of the manager they believed could return the club to the summit of football. In contrast to United they had absolutely no interest in appointing a club legend who would bring the feel-good factor back – they’d tried and failed with that before with Souness, Evans and Dalglish’s second coming.
Even though Klopp’s final season at Dortmund was poor – they were second from bottom in the league at the midway point – the xG of his side suggested they were extremely unlucky and that their league position wasn’t a true reflection of Klopp’s management.
Similarly, xG data suggests Klopp’s first few seasons at Liverpool should have yielded higher league finishes than the final table standings. In Mourinho’s triumphant 2nd-placed Cup winning season Liverpool finished 4th however their xG data implied they should have finished in 2nd place ahead of United who, incidentally, should have only finished 6th (for anyone that has any memory of watching United that season this will come as no surprise). I should also add Liverpool were Champions League Final runners up in the same season and might even have won it had Salah not been rugby tackled early on and if they had had a traffic cone in goal instead of the calamity Karius.
In fairness to Ole, xG data suggests United should have scored a lot more goals and conceded fewer this season and should therefore be sitting in 4th place, although still behind Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool. And perhaps if Pogba had played more games this campaign than expected and actual points might be even greater.
So are United on the right track under Ole’s guidance? Data would suggest they might be but in truth I’m not sure anyone really knows. Fortunately for the two-time Tippeligæn winner (borrowed) time will tell.