May 12, 2021

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s selections and substitutions again under scrutiny


Is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, or does he just keep getting substitutions wrong?

The Manchester United manager has often been criticised by pundits and on social media for not making substitutions often enough or soon enough and for not resting players enough.

Yesterday against AC Milan, the Norwegian made a triple substitution in the 74th minute, taking off Bruno Fernandes, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dan James and replacing them with Fred, Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams. The Red Devils went on to concede a late goal and despite the fact that it came as a result of defensive errors, many blamed the manager for making the substitutions.

‘Think Solskjaer deserves criticism for his substitutions tonight,’ one fan tweeted. ‘If you make three defensive subs you’re trying to hold on to a 1-0 and inviting pressure for last 20 minutes.’

‘Solskjaer getting exactly what he deserves. 20 mins to go and he makes subs to play for a 1-0,’ said another.

‘He played Bruno for 90 minutes in useless games only to sub him for Fred, when his leadership was needed for the finish of the game,’ was another typical comment.

It is certainly true that the substitutions backfired and it is also inarguable that two defenders and a defensive midfielder were brought on for two attacking players and a defender. The substitutions did, therefore, seem negative. However, in Solskjaer’s defence, there were no more attacking options on the bench other than Shola Shoretire, a 17-year-old with just a few minutes of senior football under his belt.

The only other outfield options were Victor Lindelof and Axel Tuanzebe.

Bruno Fernandes and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, two of the three players removed, do look exhausted and their playing levels have dropped recently, it is fair to assume because of the sheer amount of football they have been asked to play. With a tough Premier League match against West Ham at the weekend, it does not seem unreasonable to have trusted the rest of the team to see themselves home for 16 minutes.

If Solskjaer can be faulted for anything, it would be for not having rotated more earlier in the season, especially in easier games. Bruno Fernandes, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcus Rashford in particular have been flogged to death and it is beginning to take its toll. The likes of Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe, Alex Telles, Donny van de Beek, Juan Mata and Dan James could have been rotated in much more, much sooner. They, in turn, would have had a chance to ‘get their eye in’ – get up to match fitness – and not look so out of their depth when they do get a chance.

It is not as if these players are poor rotational options. It is hard to know how Van de Beek, for example, has managed to get injured given that he has only played 1,000 of United’s 4,000 minutes of football this season. He had only ever missed four games due to injury in his entire career before that. Mata has also picked up a mystery injury having played even fewer minutes – 665. Nobody has even disclosed the nature of the problem that is keeping him out of contention. You can’t help but wonder, had they been given more minutes earlier in the season, whether they would have been in better physical condition and able to take some of the strain now.

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