Interim caretaker, no more.
In a surprise to no one, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been tabbed permanent manager of Manchester United.
While there is no arguing that United has improved since OGS replaced Jose Mourinho, is their recent success sustainable? And if not, will they regret this move sooner than later? It’s complicated.
As Bill Parcels would say, “you are what your record says you are.”
In 19 games under Solskjaer, they’re 14-2-3. Under Jose Mourinho in all competitions, they were 10-7-7. That’s a marked improvement.
When OGS arrived at United they were 18 points behind Liverpool.
He then went on ‘magical run of performances’ as Liverpool’s ‘title bid fell apart’ and now after securing his job and ‘turning the ship around’
United are now 18 points behind Liverpool.
— agent bobby (@agentbobby_) March 24, 2019
As with most data, it’s all about how your parse the information.
OGS’ first slate of games included an anti-murderer’s row of Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City, Bournemouth, and a pre-Almiron acquisition Newscastle United.
Since their competition has increased in quality over the past seven matches (starting with their February 12th Champions League Round of 16 match against Paris Saint-Germain), they are a mere 3-1-3.
They beat PSG to advance to the Champions League Quarterfinals!
They’ve lost to Wolverhampton and were shut-out by Arsenal within the last two weeks!
They were very unlucky against Arsenal, with better chances and xG.
But but but!
They were lucky to get past PSG in the first place.
So, yeah, pick the data you want to support whatever argument you want to support. Again, it’s complicated.
What we know for sure
There is absolutely zero question as to whether Man U are a better team under OGS than Mourinho. They are. They made the right move in making the switch. They would not be among the final 8 of the Champions League if they hadn’t.
The bigger question, as scheduling and luck continue to regress to the mean, is OGS really the best manager for United long-term?
Toss out his tenure at Cardiff City, and focus on his time at Molde in the Eliteserien (Norway’s top division).
He’s been consistently a 55% winner at Molde.
And if you take the low outlier of Cardiff and average it with the high outlier of Manchester United…you get around 51%, closer in line to his Molde success rate.
How’s that shake out against some peers and luminary figures?
- In top level competition, Zinedine Zidane is around 70%.
- In top level competition, Jurgen Klopp clocks in just over 50%.
- At Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson won almost 60%.
- At the top level, Pep Guardiola is a ridiculous 73% clip.
- The beautiful trainwreck that is Maurizio Sarri while at Napoli and Chelsea? 65%!
- The supposed successor-in-waiting Mauricio Pochettino? 46% (though 56.7% while at Spurs)
- And the absolute disaster he replaced? Jose Mourinho is nearly 65% career and 58% at United.
The bottomline with Solskjaer
While we at High Press Soccer would’ve waited until the full 2018-19 campaign was over before making a more measured final decision on Solskjaer’s future, it’s hard to fault Manchester United for making the hire. OGS has been an improvement. The players have responded. They’re more pleasant to watch.
While OGS may never be Pep or Zidane good–who is? You only have a few chances to hire managers of that caliber. With Zidane off the market, May 2019 won’t be one of those chances.
His career at Molde and time at United to date indicate Solskjaer will be OK. There’s nothing to suggest he’s going to suddenly turn into Frank de Boer. Yeah, he’s been fortunate. Most good managers are fortunate from time-to-time. The real challenge will come if any prolonged bad run of form hits United. What if they’re knocked out by Barcelona in the UCL and don’t qualify for it next year? Will the bosses at Old Trafford be ok with that? Will they have patience?
Ultimately, United won’t know if they made the right long-term decision for longer than they’d care to wait for that answer. So is life when you’re a public company and one of the biggest sporting brands in the world. However, the data and track record suggest the club has stabilized themselves with a perfectly fine hire. Is fine good enough? Does fine equal titles? As Asia would say, only time will tell.
Despite first-place Barcelona’s commanding lead, there’s plenty of intrigue in La Liga with 10 games to play.
The most compelling match of the weekend is Atlético Madrid’s match at Alavés on Saturday at 3:45 p.m. Eastern. It’s a crucial contest for the home underdogs, who are just two points behind fourth-place Getafe, which would qualify for next year’s Champions League if the season ended today.
Alavés getting little respect
|Alavés +420||Draw +230||Atlético Madrid -135|
Despite being in good shape in the standings – they could move into fourth place if they beat Atleti and Getafe loses to Leganes on Saturday – Alavés has just a 9% chance at UCL qualification, per FiveThirtyEight. A big reason the analytics site is so down on them is their uninspiring goal differential of 0. In addition to what it would mean for their spot in the table, a win over Diego Simeone’s club would turn a lot of heads.
It promises to be a low-scoring affair, as Alavés is fifth in Spain in goals allowed (31) and is facing a notoriously tough Atlético Madrid defense that has allowed by far the fewest goals in La Liga this year (19) – through 28 games!
Still, Alavés finds themselves as a huge underdog at home (+420!) to odds-on favorite Atleti.
Atleti not exactly top of the world right now
Los Rojiblancos enter this match-up at a crossroads. It would be a stretch to say Simeone’s side is reeling – they are, after all, still well-positioned to finish in second place in the league and have won four of five in domestic play. But Atleti’s coming off a brutal UCL loss to Juventus on March 12th and an inexplicable 2-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao four days later. The news that Lucas Hernández will leave the club this summer for an 80-million euro contract with Bayern Munich is the latest disappointment for a team that is surely ready for this month to be over.
The biggest question is whether this team has put the nightmare in Turin behind it. It would be somewhat understandable, but nevertheless a shame, if Atleti allowed its shocking elimination from the Champions League to completely derail the rest of the season.
FiveThirtyEight gives Atlético a 37% chance to win, while pegging Alavés’ chance at an upset at 34% (meaning that +420 is a great price if you like Alavés), and the site would not be surprised by a draw (29%) either. I think Atleti will get back on the right track in a narrow victory, but a 0-0 snoozer would be no surprise.
In other news…
Elsewhere in La Liga, Sevilla needs a victory at home against Valencia on Sunday at 10:15 a.m. Eastern to stay in the Champions League picture, as it is three points from UCL qualification. These teams will be tied for sixth place with 43 points if Valencia wins.
And although Barcelona-Espanyol at Camp Nou is not exactly a toss-up, it will be worth watching how Lionel Messi and Co. fare offensively with Ousmane Dembélé out and Luis Suárez possibly unavailable as well. Messi himself is not at 100% following a groin injury in Argentina’s loss to Venezuela in a friendly last Friday.