“That’s our system, you can see the slides on the Powerpoint,” the Man United manager said after the game.
During Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Wolves, Paul Pogba took a spot-kick ahead of Marcus Rashford, seemingly because he had been fouled and won the penalty.
Rashford had buried a spot-kick the previous week against Chelsea and has an impeccable penalty record, having never missed from the spot for the club. Pogba has now missed four of his 11 penalties for United.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side would have gone top of the Premier League had the French midfielder scored, and United held-on. The two points dropped could be the difference between qualifying for the Champions League or being stuck in the Europa League. United would also have gained a sizeable confidence boost with an early-season win over Wolves, one of the division’s most accomplished teams.
However, from United’s perspective, that is not the worrying-part, as anyone can miss a penalty and there is no guarantee that they would have won the game anyway. The most troubling aspect of the incident on Monday night was Solskjaer’s reaction.
“Paul and Marcus are the designated penalty-takers,” the United manager said on Sky Sports following the final whistle.
“And it’s up to them to decide there and then who feels, ‘This is mine.’ That’s our system, you can see the slides on the Powerpoint.”
Solskjaer was then asked if he would change his “system” and appoint one designated penalty-taker.
“No, not at all. The two of them have been very confident and I like players with confidence.”
It appears that Solskjaer is not strong enough to tell Pogba that, unfortunately for him, Rashford is the superior penalty-taker and the England striker will be on spot-kicks. Or the United manager is willing to operate an utterly bizarre, and detrimental, “system.” Either way, it doesn’t reflect well on the Norwegian.
Even schoolboy teams have a designated penalty-taker. An amateur side wouldn’t go on a pitch without knowing who will take a penalty. The idea that, if a player wins a penalty, as Pogba did on Monday night, they then get to take the kick works in the playground but not in the Premier League.
Even Solskjaer’s logic doesn’t make any sense. It is not a “system” if the players do not know who will take the penalty. He has left it to the whims of the players on the pitch, which is the complete opposite of a “system.”
What if both players feel confident of scoring a penalty? Who then takes the kick? What happens the next time United win a penalty? What if Pogba feels more “confident” of scoring that kick?
On Monday Night Football, Gary Neville compared the penalty arrangement to Manchester City’s policy of the squad voting for a club captain.
However, that comparison does not work at all. Man City didn’t elect two candidates and then leave it up to them to decide which one was more “confident” on the day to captain the team. Jamie Carragher’s analysis of the situation made more sense.
“That will never work,” the former Liverpool defender said about Solskjaer’s policy of designating two penalty-takers and leaving it to them to decide who should take the kick.
“You will get that on-pitch conversation every time United get a penalty. You don’t need that conversation. The manager needs to be stronger. Or Paul Pogba should think of the team and say Rashford is the best penalty taker. It’s cost them two points tonight.”
United, one of the richest clubs in the world, are basing a key decision on something as arbitrary as “confidence.” If Rashford has never missed a penalty, and Pogba has missed over 30 per cent of the kicks he has taken for United, then there is no decision to even be made.
Rashford must take penalties and his teammate has no choice but to accept it. The statistics are telling Solskjaer what to do, but he is ignoring that to focus on something that cannot be accurately measured.
The counter-argument to that would be that Solskjaer is empowering his players to make decisions for themselves. Once they step on the pitch, there is not a lot he can do. They’re experienced professionals, Pogba is a World Cup winner, and should know the best course of action in such situations. Why was Rashford, a striker, so willing to surrender a chance to score? Why aren’t there more leaders on the pitch to guide the team? Why didn’t someone tell Pogba to cop on and allow the better penalty-taker to take the kick?
There is some merit in that, but ultimately Solskjaer must take responsibility for a costly mistake that could have been easily avoided.