Liverpool’s long title wait a warning for Manchester United

Manchester United’s manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gives directions to his team. (AP)
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Updated 19 January 2020

Liverpool’s long title wait a warning for Manchester United

  • The problem for United is Solskjaer’s rebuild is just the latest of many that have so far failed since Ferguson retired in 2013

LIVERPOOL: Thirteen months on from the match that finally drew the curtain on Jose Mourinho’s time in charge of Manchester United, the Red Devils again find themselves living in Liverpool’s shadow ahead of their return to Anfield on Sunday.
A 3-1 defeat for Mourinho’s men last December that left United 19 points behind Liverpool at the top of the table was the final straw for the club’s decision-makers.
But over a year on, little progress has been made under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Defeat on Sunday will see the gulf between the teams grow to 30 points with Liverpool also having a game in hand to come over fifth-placed United.
As a player, Solskjaer was used to having the upper hand in the rivalry between English football’s two most successful sides.
The Norwegian won six Premier League titles in the Alex Ferguson era as the pugnacious Scot delivered on his promise to knock Liverpool off their perch.
Ferguson won 13 league titles in total, but the first of which in 1992/93 ended a 26-year drought for United.
At that time, few would have believed that Liverpool, English football’s dominant force in the 70s and 80s, would go at least 30 years without winning the league.
That three-decade wait looks certain to come to an end this season with Jurgen Klopp’s men 14 points clear at the top of the table, but Liverpool’s long route back to the top is a warning for United of what could lie ahead if they do not move fast to arrest their slide. “We are working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. Let that be a lesson for us,”
said Solskjaer.
“We can’t let ourselves go another 24 years till we win the league and I’m sure won’t because I believe in this club. We started the rebuild now that I believe is going to take a little bit of time, but we’ll get there.”
The problem for United is Solskjaer’s rebuild is just the latest of many that have so far failed since Ferguson retired in 2013.
United are now onto their fourth permanent manager in that time and are now pursuing a policy of signing young, emerging talents after being burned on splashing big money on players past their prime like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez and Bastian Schweinsteiger in recent times.
Liverpool have spent far less in the transfer market of late, but it is the right structure in place above the German allied to Klopp’s ability to inspire and improve players that has made the Reds Champions League winners and English champions in waiting.

BACKGROUND

A 3-1 defeat for Jose Mourinho’s men last December that left Manchester United 19 points behind Liverpool at the top of the table was the final straw for the club’s decision-makers.

“Klopp has moved Liverpool so far ahead because rather than buy a team of superstars, he has made a team of superstars,” former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher wrote in The Telegraph this week.
“What Klopp is achieving at Anfield is more a triumph of coaching and management, aided by skilled recruitment, than the flexing of financial muscle.”
Liverpool are unbeaten in the league in over a year and have taken 104 points from their last 38 games compared to United’s 59.
Klopp’s galvanizing effect shows the difference having one of the world’s top managers can make, and one is now on the market should United decide to change course again.
Mauricio Pochettino was United’s primary target when Mourinho was sacked just over a year ago, but the Argentine was contracted to Tottenham at the time.
Solskjaer needs a strong end to the season if he is to be given another campaign to right the United ship.
And there would be no better way for him to prove that progress is being made under his watch than ending Liverpool’s unbeaten run at Anfield in the Premier League stretching back to April 2017.


Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

Updated 20 October 2020

Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

  • Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League

LONDON: Pep Guardiola starts his latest bid to lead Manchester City to Champions League glory with the shadows of past failures casting doubt on his ability to secure that elusive title.

City host Porto in their opening Champions League group match on Wednesday with Guardiola's failing in the tournament weighing heavily on both the Spanish boss and his club.

Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League and Guardiola has found the competition equally vexing for much of the last decade.

Since he won the Champions League as Barcelona boss for the second time in 2011, Guardiola has failed to return to the final of Europe's elite club competition.

That nine-year drought includes four years of frustration since he took charge at City in 2016.

In that time, Guardiola has seen City beaten by Monaco in the last 16 and Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon in the quarterfinals.

He also lost in three semifinals during his time as Bayern Munich manager before moving to City.

Last season's shock 3-1 defeat against Lyon in Lisbon was especially galling as City were heavy favorites against the French side.

Guardiola deserved a large portion of the blame for that letdown after his tactical tinkering appeared to unsettle his players and did nothing to tilt the tie in City's favor.

Interpreted by Guardiola's critics as further proof that his Champions League success at Barcelona was due to the presence of the great Lionel Messi's presence, the only bright side of the Lyon loss was that it was not their farewell to Europe for a while.

For several months last season, it appeared City would not even be competing in the Champions League this term after UEFA gave them a two-year ban from European competitions for Financial Fairplay breaches.

City's legal dream team won that battle and the suspension was eventually thrown out on appeal.

Whether Guardiola can be as successful in Europe as City's Abu Dhabi-based owners were in the court room remains far from certain.

Adding to the unease around City ahead of their European campaign is the unresolved issue of Guardiola's future.

Guardiola is out of contract at the end of the season and has yet to agree on a new deal amid speculation that he may decide to leave the Etihad Stadium in 2021.

For now, Guardiola will focus on Porto's visit to Manchester rather than entertaining questions about his long-term plans.

The 49-year-old insists he has to earn a prolonged stay at City by improving on last season's disappointment, which saw them surrender the Premier League to Liverpool and win only the League Cup.

There have been some worrying signs already as Leicester thrashed City 5-2, while Saturday's 1-0 win against Arsenal was far from convincing.

Significantly, Guardiola was able to welcome back Sergio Aguero last weekend as City's record goalscorer made his first appearance for four months after knee surgery.

City have lacked a cutting edge in Aguero's absence and Guardiola's hopes of a serious Champions League challenge hinge on the Argentine striker staying fit.

"The important thing is that Sergio comes back in good physical condition, starts to get his rhythm, doesn't get more injuries and plays good," Guardiola said.

"We know what he means for us, we know how we appreciate him, but now he has to show like every one of us, me first, that we deserve to continue here and playing good and winning games."