Solskjaer now banking on Europa to end trophy drought
Ole Gunnar Solskjær © Gallo Images

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows what is expected of the man in the Old Trafford managerial hot seat, having been a part of Alex Ferguson’s trophy-winning Manchester United machine.

Fighting for a place in the Premier League’s runners-up spot and making it to the final stages of cup competitions isn’t really winning. That’s why United’s disappointing FA Cup quarterfinal loss to Leicester City on Sunday came as such a surprise.

Even though there were limiting factors in Solskjaer’s team selection, most notably a difficult Europa League last-16 assignment three days prior in Milan, which they successfully passed, it still felt like a great opportunity was lost.

Solskjaer started without the likes of in-form Luke Shaw, talisman Bruno Fernandes, and dependable Scott McTominay, and his side was outplayed in a 3-1 loss.

Solskjaer could have been forgiven for gambling at Leicester if he had already won some silverware since taking over full-time two years ago, or if he had a chance of catching Premier League leaders Manchester City.

They were eliminated in the semifinals of the League Cup FA Cup, and Europa League last season, and the quarterfinals of the Champions League the season before.

While Solskjaer is correct in pointing to signs of improvement, the fact that the trophy cabinet is collecting dust does not sit well with the fans or, presumably, the hierarchy, who last celebrated a trophy when Jose Mourinho won the Europa League in 2017.

“I am demoralised a little bit as a Manchester United fan as I thought (the FA Cup) was a really good one to go for,” Gary Neville told Sky Sports.

With a win, United would have advanced to the semifinals against a Southampton side in disarray and a chance to face either Chelsea or Manchester City in the final – the kind of high-profile match United craves.

Solskjaer has hopes of winning the Europa League

Instead, they’ve put all of their hopes in the Europa League. They face Granada in the last eight, but the semifinals will be against either Ajax Amsterdam or AS Roma, so there are no guarantees.

United is only in the Europa League because they were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage after a terrible loss to RB Leipzig.

Angelino (r.) grabbed a goal and an assist as RB Leipzig reached the UEFA Champions League last 16 with victory at home to Manchester United. – © ANNEGRET HILSE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Solskjaer claims he has no regrets about rotating his squad at Leicester, where Donny van der Beek and Paul Pogba both started, claiming that players like Fernandes needed rest.

“Every team selection has reasons behind it, Bruno has played lots of football – he broke all his records physically on Thursday. He is a human being, he’s played a game every three or four days,” said Solskjaer.

According to Neville, the Norwegian’s former teammate, the United coach needed to win a trophy.

“Of course, finishing second would be the priority at the start of the season, but winning a trophy with that would be a real priority and now they only have the Europa League left,” he said.

“I genuinely believe that that group of players need to win a trophy under Ole. Also, there comes a point when if you are going to catch Manchester City, you have to beat them in a big game in a big competition.”

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