Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said in February that life as a Manchester United player has to be survival of the fittest.
“You have seen what I have chosen, I have chosen that we need to play as a Man Utd team and if you want to be a part of Man Utd, it’s survival of the fittest isn’t it?”
But their humiliating 4-0 defeat at Everton on Sunday only served to underline just how far off the pace this current United squad really is and all-but ensured there will be no surviving the race to reach the top four.
On energy and enthusiasm they were fifth or sixth in a two-horse race. In a season which has thrown up plenty of opportunities to question just how bad things can get, this was the worst of the lot.
Richarlison had already tested David de Gea before volleying home unmarked on 13 minutes, and the United keeper was then slow to react as Gylfi Sigurdsson made it 2-0 from distance after Nemanja Matic had been laboured in dealing with the Icelandic midfielder.
Lucas Digne belted home a third after United only half-cleared shortly after half-time and then Sigurdsson found Theo Walcott in acres of space as Everton made it four. United had been battered black and blue, and in truth there wasn’t a single positive aspect to their performance.
“One of the things I talked about today is that a Manchester United team should never ever be outworked,” said Solskjaer after leading United to a 5-1 win at Cardiff in his first game in charge, but at Goodison his players looked incapable of work.
They were slow and ponderous, outplayed and out-enthused. Every 50-50 seemed to be won by an energetic figure in blue ahead of a laboured by-stander in pink.
Having gone down to a thumping 3-1 loss to Liverpool on their last visit to Merseyside, United at least received the boost of Jose Mourinho’s sacking two days later. Following this one there is only the realisation that things may have to get far worse before they get any better.
Solskjaer has now overseen six defeats in United’s last eight matches, and the end of the season probably cannot come quick enough right now. Unless they pull off a remarkable victory over Manchester City on Wednesday and somehow collect maximum points from their remaining games, it will be Europa League football and another rebuilding summer to come.
The club’s needs off the field have been discussed far and wide. A technical director with the power to make serious changes would be just the first step. Handing Solskjaer a chance to make serious long-term decisions would be the second.
But as far as the on-pitch performances go, they require fitter, stronger players. The work Solskjaer is able to do with this squad on the training field this summer is almost every bit as key as their transfer window dealings.
After five years of pedestrian-paced football under Louis van Gaal and Mourinho, this lot needed whipping into shape and quick. They managed to keep up with Solskjaer’s demands for the best part of about two months and have been left flagging for too long since early February.
There is no mobility about this side, no impetus, no intensity. They have some players who would look great in a United team firing on all cylinders, running at opposition defenders with abandon. But they do not look equipped to do so in their current physical shape. Right now, this Manchester United squad wouldn’t look particularly out of place at the lower end of the Premier League.
A long summer lies ahead. But at least it will give Solskjaer the chance to see whether the fittest really will survive.
Source : goal.com