Don’t apologise, just deliver, United: Neil Humphreys
Solskjaer's fragile boys must say sorry less and win more
MANCHESTER UNITED v VILLARREAL
(Tomorrow, 3am, Singtel TV Ch 110 & StarHub TV Ch 214)
For a manager trained in the ways of Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still hasn't mastered the basics.
Traditionally, the Red Devils don't apologise for much, and they definitely don't say sorry for missing penalties.
Roy Keane didn't apologise for maiming midfielders, a tad extreme in retrospect, but an indication of a club psyche that Solskjaer cannot seem to replicate.
So it's probably not surprising that Solskjaer's most devoted acolytes - his former United teammates - are pulling back their support.
On Monday, Gary Neville savaged Bruno Fernandes and his public relations team for issuing such a melodramatic public apology.
Fernandes missed a penalty. His show of contrition suggested he'd killed the club mascot.
Neville believes the mea culpa may be an attempt to unleash a smokescreen over a third defeat in four games, along with the dozen elephants in the room.
United just aren't very good at the moment. Their form remains fluid and their direction is anyone's guess.
Solskjaer is almost, nearly, definitely, maybe going to settle on a fixed line-up and style any time soon. Until then, he'll be happy to share excuses and complain about perceived injustices instead.
Last week, it was penalties.
United didn't get any, according to Solskjaer, and it was all Juergen Klopp's fault apparently, which was awkward for a couple of reasons.
First, Solskjaer's United have been awarded more penalties per game (0.32) in the English Premier League than Klopp's Liverpool (0.14).
And second, the Red Devils were given a penalty against Aston Villa, which Fernandes missed.
Clearly, Solskjaer needed a new smokescreen. So he blamed those mean Villa players for distracting Fernandes.
Then he claimed that Villa's winner should have been chalked off.
The Norwegian appears to be trudging down a well-worn path, built by Sir Alex Ferguson and maintained by Jose Mourinho; that is the siege mentality, popular at both Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge in the 1990s and 2000s.
But the approach takes hold when teams are menacing, challenging and winning. Right now, between Solskjaer's moaning and Fernandes' apologising, the Red Devils are displaying less tenacity than a flower-arranging class.
Perhaps the tactic was borne out of desperation, rather than a calculated, psychological ploy to influence referees and opponents.
Solskjaer knows his trickiest banana skin returns tomorrow morning (Singapore time), in the shape of the Champions League. United face Villarreal in a tournament where the manager's track record is more wayward than Fernandes' missed penalty.
Having lost seven of his 11 Champions League games, Solskjaer is still preoccupied with more questions than answers.
Jadon Sancho's lack of game time makes it difficult to see how the former Borussia Dortmund sensation fits into an inconsistent line-up. The Champions League may give him an opportunity. But where will he play exactly?
Can Paul Pogba really be shunted to the left wing or must he take the thankless role beside Scott McTominay? Should United even play two holding midfielders? Do Cristiano Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood go together? Why are so many questions still being asked while a coherent template remains elusive?
Even Villa's Dean Smith had a discernible approach at Old Trafford and his team's victory was thoroughly deserved.
All United were left with were excuses, accusations and cringe-worthy apologies, pointing fingers and saying sorry like repentant school prefects.
But the distractions are no longer distracting. Unpredictable results and the struggle to make the most of superior resources are stealing the spotlight because we've been here before. The deja vu is inescapable.
Suddenly, victory against Villarreal feels essential. With Neville, of all people, questioning the players' mealy-mouthed apologies, the Red Devils must reassert themselves.
Once United start winning again, they'll have nothing to be sorry for.