It’s very much been a case of two steps forward, one step back for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side this season, amid problems of consistency all over the pitch.
Sportsmail’s experts analyse what needs to change as United focus on the Premier League heading into the festive period, starting with the Manchester derby against rivals City on Saturday night.
Manchester United slumped to defeat against RB Leipzig on a dismal night for the Red Devils
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team crashed out of the Champions League on Tuesday evening
1) STICKING WITH OLE?
CHRIS SUTTON: Stick with him for now. There’s no denying this European exit is a massive disappointment, especially given how they started Group H with two wins.
The problem is United are so erratic. It’s triumph or disaster. It’s Ole in, Ole out. Win, and he’s The Chosen One. Lose, and he’s The Chump.
Let’s give Solskjaer the benefit of the doubt for the time being. United finished third in the Premier League last season. Settle on a system, an XI, and try to achieve that again.
IAN LADYMAN: Yeah, I agree. I’m sticking with Ole. Not because he is a manager who can win the Premier League for United. He isn’t. Not now. Not ever. But United have had four managers since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and they must get the next appointment right.
Solskjaer is capable of getting United in the top four, especially in a season when we may well see a blanket finish. So nothing disastrous will happen with the Norwegian in charge.
United should stick with Solskjaer despite their surprising exit from the Champions League
What United must do is use the time wisely to plan the succession. And that must come next summer. Mauricio Pochettino remains the obvious candidate to take over. Presuming he wants to, of course.
CHRIS WHEELER: There are concerns over Solskjaer’s ability to be a world-class coach, and those will only have deepened after Leipzig. But the chaos at United post-Ferguson has been exacerbated by the club chopping and changing managers with different styles.
There is a clearer identity under Solskjaer. That alone will not guarantee success, but it’s a step in the right direction and he deserves time to see the job through.
2) POGBA: BUILD THE TEAM ROUND HIM OR GET RID?
CS: I see only one solution — kick him and his agent into touch. Mino Raiola is a troublemaker. If my representative was misrepresenting me, I’d make it very clear to my club and the supporters. Pogba hasn’t done that, and there’s nothing stopping him from doing it.
A glance on social media shows he has 50million followers across Twitter and Instagram. Paul Scholes said on Tuesday night that Pogba is a ‘good lad’. This is not the behaviour of a ‘good lad’.
Pogba came on in the second-half against Leipzig and made an impact but he should be sold
He’s staying silent and letting his agent do damage. Is the reason Solskjaer brought on Donny van de Beek at half-time and not Pogba because of what Raiola said?
Did it make him think he cannot rely on him? If so, that’s not fair on the manager. It’s all a mess.
CW: Pogba signed the summer of the Brexit referendum and both topics have since become interminably boring. It hasn’t worked. It isn’t going to work. Time to say goodbye to Pogba and his irksome agent.
The challenge now is to find a buyer and strike a deal that doesn’t look as bad as letting Pogba go for nothing the first time around, then paying £89million to get him back.
IL: We’re all on the same page here. It is too late to build a team around Pogba. United have bought Bruno Fernandes and the two of them want to play in the same position. So it may well be that decision time has arrived in terms of the Frenchman.
This week’s statement by Pogba’s agent would appear to have been endorsed by him. As Chris says, if it wasn’t then surely he would have said so.
Therefore, move Pogba out in January if possible. And spend some of the money saved on wages to bring in another body, even if only on loan.
The timing of the Pogba news this week would have irked Man United manager Solskjaer
What United cannot do is leave Solskjaer light on numbers ahead of a busy second half of the season that will now include a Europa League campaign. So Pogba goes — but only if he can be replaced.
3) WHO’S YOUR KEEPER?
IL: Dean Henderson deserves his chance. David de Gea remains capable of great nights. He was excellent when United won at PSG, for example.
But he is also a player who looks short of hunger and knows he no longer has anything to prove. That’s a bad combination.
Give Henderson a go. If it doesn’t work, United can be reassured they have the most gifted No 2 in world football waiting in the wings!
CS: RB Leipzig’s third goal was weak. De Gea lacked courage. It looked like he was scared of getting clattered. It was a half-hearted challenge. He turned his back on it and you cannot have your goalkeeper doing that.
I thought Henderson would be United’s No 1 at the start of the season. Like Ian, I’d like to see him in the Premier League now.
David de Gea faced criticism afterwards and should be replaced as keeper by Dean Henderson
CW: I have to agree. De Gea’s attempt to keep out Leipzig’s third goal was pitiful. He has been less error-prone so far this season, but a goalkeeper of his stature can still do better.
Henderson deserves a run and an opportunity to stake his claim to be the new No 1. If Solskjaer wants competition between his two keepers then let it be a fair one.
4) HOW MANY OF THE DEFENCE DO YOU KEEP?
CW: I have my reservations about all of them, but Victor Lindelof is the only one I would cut at the moment. The Swede is solid enough, but not up to the standard United require.
The sooner they can offload players such as Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones and sign a world-class centre back the better.
CS: I’d keep faith with Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The right back had a poor night in Germany. Wan-Bissaka is excellent in one-v-one situations but there are areas of his game which require work, such as how to defend crosses from the opposite flank.
But he’s got potential. Maguire is a good central defender and footballer, too. But the jury is still out on Alex Telles.
Luke Shaw has never shown true levels of consistency and there must be an upgrade on Lindelof out there.
IL: United’s best back four is still Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Shaw. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that defence if it is properly coached. Wan-Bissaka could do with a little more quality on the ball, while Shaw needs to concentrate better.
But Maguire and Lindelof remains an adequate partnership to challenge for the top four.
Maguire has been in decent form since that horror night for England against Denmark in October. Not sure he is a captain, mind you…
Captain Harry Maguire was a figure of frustration as United faltered in Germany on Tuesday
5) WHAT’S YOUR BEST MIDFIELD COMBINATION?
CS: United cannot seem to find a regular position for Van de Beek. Bruno Fernandes is best at No 10, there isn’t a soul out there who would disagree with that. So then it’s about who provides the best protection behind him.
Right now, that’s Fred and Scott McTominay. I’m not necessarily endorsing them, but they are the best duo available to Solskjaer as things stand.
CW: Yes, Fernandes has to play but I would pick Van de Beek and McTominay to sit behind him.
Pogba could get in ahead of them both, but it depends which Pogba turns up: the World Cup winner who made a real impact off the bench in Leipzig or the £89m flop who flatters to deceive.
IL: Recently I wrote that I was confused why Solskjaer had turned away from the Pogba-Nemanja Matic holding combination that did well for him at the back end of last season. That still baffles me a little.
However, if we presume that the Pogba ship has sailed, we have to think again. From what I have seen, Fred has improved hugely this season so I would slide him in alongside Matic and let Fernandes, Greenwood, Rashford and Martial do their thing up ahead.
Bruno Fernandes has been United’s saving grace recently and has to be the key midfield man
I take Chris’s point on McTominay, but I don’t see a genuine United player there. As for Van de Beek, I am not convinced Solskjaer ever wanted him in the first place.
6) BEST BLEND IN ATTACK?
CW: Marcus Rashford on the right, Mason Greenwood on the left and, right now, Edinson Cavani through the middle. Looking ahead, United need a world-class striker to be truly competitive again.
Anthony Martial was their top scorer last season but he simply isn’t reliable enough.
CS: Solskjaer likes his split-strikers but I’m going to go with 4-2-3-1. United have got something going forward. There are managers out there who would love to have their armoury.
A major part of Leipzig’s gameplan was to stifle Fernandes. They were so aggressive with him in the first half, but he is a class act and capable of brilliance at any moment.
With him at No 10, I’d also have Cavani in front — his movement is a killer — but I’d play Rashford on the left and Greenwood on the right. Martial hasn’t really got going this season, so he’s my substitute.
Marcus Rashford was not at his potent best on Tuesday and needs assistance up front
IL: Yes, those four have the potential to really hurt teams. However, there are issues over Greenwood right now, while Martial is reminding us of what we already knew, namely that he is inconsistent.
United are not a good enough team to dominate possession against the best sides — they don’t have the players. So as a counter-attacking team, pace is their best option. Solskjaer must look to harness his Fab Four with Cavani coming in as an impact player.
If he gets away from that and looks regularly at starting players such as Juan Mata, I don’t see progress. Mata is a fine ball-player but is a yard too slow.
7) IF MONEY’S NO OBJECT, WHO DO YOU BUY?
CW: Harry Kane would transform United. Or, if Juventus want Pogba back, then what about a swap for Cristiano Ronaldo? United also need a quicker, more agile central back partner for Harry Maguire in the Raphael Varane mould.
CS: See what happened to Liverpool when they prioritised signing a centre back? They got Virgil van Dijk and it was a game changer.
As much as I don’t think Fred and McTominay are top drawer in midfield, I’d target a central defender.
Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli is forever linked. He’s 29 now, so if he is the man for the job, they need to strike sooner rather than later.
United should target Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly as they need to prioritise a central defender
IL: Ideally, United need a world-class holding player and another central defender. Both are hard to find. Look at Manchester City and how hard they have found it to replace Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho.
There has been talk of a return for Jonny Evans, but what about Leicester’s other central defender Caglar Soyuncu? Or Conor Coady of Wolves?
If United are going to improve, they must behave like a big club. Bidding for players from other good Premier League sides is what big clubs do.
8) ANY OTHER PROBLEMS YOU WOULD FIX?
IL: If the team are winning, the stuff off the field doesn’t matter. There is endless talk of United hiring a director of football, for example, but it is how the recruitment department functions as a whole that really matters.
United have done better in the market recently. Fernandes, Maguire and Wan-Bissaka were decent signings. But United can still be slow off the mark and — strange as it sounds — rather naive.
For example, Solskjaer shook hands on a deal with young Erling Haaland only for him to sign for Borussia Dortmund two weeks later. Clubs such as Liverpool are not just outstripping United on the field, they are doing so in the market, too.
United missed out on Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland and need to be better in the market
CS: I get bored of hearing about ‘the Manchester United way’ and how it’s in the club’s DNA to be successful. When Solskjaer was asked about playing for a draw in Leipzig, which would have taken them into the last 16, he said: ‘It’s not in the club’s genes.’
What does that even mean? United should stop living in the past. Get to grip with reality. One of the first things Solskjaer has to address is how and why they start games so slowly.
CW: Director of football — do United want one or not? It’s clear that they need one to oversee a more coherent transfer policy but Ed Woodward and Matt Judge seem a little reluctant to let go of the reins.