Pochettino appears to be on his way back to Spurs and Man United are about to make the same mistake again.
After losing the Europa League final on penalties to Villarreal, Manchester United appear to be on the verge of making the same mistake for the third time. Mauricio Pochettino looks set to be on his way back to Tottenham Hotspur, and Man United are sitting on their hands and persevering with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a manager who has taken the club as far as he possibly can.
Man United, like Solskjaer in the Europa League final, are ignoring the obvious changes that need to be made.
Mauricio Pochettino’s potential return to Tottenham.
According to The Athletic, Pochettino is in talks with Tottenham about a return to the club where he enjoyed great success between 2014 and November 2019, when he was sacked and replaced by Jose Mourinho.
Pochettino reportedly does not hold any grudges with his former club, however, and is understood to be unsettled in Paris. Since taking charge of PSG in January, the Argentine has experienced mixed success.
PSG won the French Super Cup and the Coupe de France but missed out on the league title to Lille on the final day of the season. They were also knocked out of the Champions League by Manchester City at the semi-final stage.
Pochettino reportedly feels he does not have the same power at the French side as he did when at Spurs and is now considering a return to his former club.
The ex-Southampton manager has a year left on his contract with PSG. The Athletic report that Pochettino would have to resign in order to make a return to Tottenham. The Spurs players are said to be “excited” by the prospect of their former coach returning.
Tottenham are in talks to bring Mauricio Pochettino back to the club pic.twitter.com/KHytyqzoGz
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) May 27, 2021
Pochettino and Man United.
Meanwhile, at Old Trafford, Man United face the prospect of once again missing out on the manager who has been the right choice for the club for several years. This is a loss that will be more damaging than the penalty shootout defeat to Villarreal in the Europa League final.
From the time Louis van Gaal was sacked in May 2016, it was apparent that Pochettino was the ideal choice to be Man United manager. The Argentine created a high-intensity, hard-working, attacking side at Spurs. Tottenham played aggressive football, with young players, and they were one of the fittest teams in Europe.
Pochettino also showed he had an eye for a player, finding gems in the lower leagues such as Dele Alli, while improving every single player in his squad. Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen became elite players under the Argentine. Spurs have looked lost without him and, if he had have been supported in the transfer market, the club wouldn’t be in such a mess now.
Pochettino achieved all of this with a significantly smaller wage budget than his rivals and without making a single transfer in 2018. Imagine what he could do with the resources available at Old Trafford.
Man United limp on with Solskjaer.
Yet, it appears that Man United are about to miss out on Pochettino for the third time. However, unlike in 2016 and 2018, this is the perfect moment to move for the Argentine coach. Pochettino wants to return to the Premier League and Man United need an elite manager.
Solskjaer has taken Man United as far as he possibly can. The Norwegian has performed better than many predicted. He has helped the club secure two top-four finishes and lifted the gloom after the toxic end to Jose Mourinho’s tenure. But Solskjaer’s limitations were badly exposed in the Europa League final defeat to Villarreal.
In the first half, Man United came up against a problem they have experienced throughout Solskjaer’s reign – how do they break down teams that sit deep and don’t give them space? United were stiff and muddled in possession, devoid of creative intent or any idea of how to unlock Villarreal. The Spanish side quickly registered that they just had to double-up on Bruno Fernandes and most of United’s attacking threat would be negated.
Solskjaer’s game management.
Man United raised the intensity in the second half and played with more purpose after going behind. But they scored from a broken spell of play and, again, struggled to create anything of note.
Yet, the biggest mark against Solskjaer was his game management, an aspect that separates good managers from elite coaches. After the longest, most gruelling and disruptive season ever, Solskjaer ignored his bench. The Norwegian stood on the sidelines in Gdansk with the look of someone who was waiting on a bus that was due to arrive 20 minutes ago. Instead of being proactive, he just waited and waited and waited, hoping the individual quality of the United players would make the difference.
He didn’t make a change until the 100th minute, and it was a dumbfounding decision. Fred replaced Mason Greenwood, Man United’s best finisher after Edinson Cavani.
Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford, who had a terrible game and lost the ball repeatedly while making several poor decisions, remained on the pitch. Rashford has scored seven goals in all competitions in 2021. Greenwood has scored six goals in his last eight Premier League matches.
Some have defended Solskjaer by saying that he had very few quality players on the bench. But this argument is baseless. Firstly, the Man United substitutes didn’t need to be world-class players, they just needed to be better than their Villarreal counterparts, which is the least one would expect of seasoned internationals such as Juan Mata or Donny van de Beek.
Also, any of the Man United substitutes would have improved the team as they would have been fresher than the players on the pitch, who looked exhausted.
Solskjaer's game management has come in for criticism after last night's defeat to Villarreal 👀
The Manchester United manager has now explained his decisions 👇https://t.co/wYWUooa7K4
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) May 27, 2021
Man United will remain in limbo under Solskjaer.
Instead, Solskjaer only made substitutions to prepare for the penalty shootout. For someone who was a ‘super-sub’ in his playing days, Solskjaer has arguably proved himself to be inept at using his squad and bench players.
Villarreal, meanwhile, looked physically shattered in the second half but were the better team in extra-time as Unai Emery made four substitutions towards the end of normal time.
There is also no evidence that Man United have a coherent attacking plan under Solskjaer and that will continue, regardless of how many players they sign in the summer.
Solskjaer apologists will argue that the club must now “back him” in the transfer market by signing several players. But that would be a mistake.
Man United may need to add more quality players in certain positions to close the gap on Manchester City and win trophies. But they could close that gap much quicker and more efficiently by appointing Pochettino to replace Solskaer.
Man United need to start acting like a football club and not a media brand. The club legend returning to restore the Red Devils to their past glory is a nice story, but there will be no fairytale ending.
Pochettino is the obvious choice to rejuvenate Man United. Yet, like Solskjaer against Villarreal, the club will undoubtedly ignore their options and just hope everything works out.