Tottenham vs Manchester United: Pressure on Solskjaer and Nuno but axing managers wouldn’t be fix-all solution

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·4-min read
Tottenham vs Manchester United: Pressure on Solskjaer and Nuno but axing managers wouldn’t be fix-all solution
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There is no looking beyond the pressure on the two managers as the focal point of Manchester United's visit to Tottenham on Saturday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Nuno Espirito Santo are facing mounting discontent over a series of underwhelming results and the situation promises to get ugly for the loser in what has dubiously been dubbed 'El Sackico' by fans.

Both Solskjaer and Nuno inherited a mess from Jose Mourinho and find themselves at broadly similar junctures, albeit via very different journeys.

Their shortcomings boil down to the same thing, namely an apparent inability to build a side based on the highly-structured possession football which is a staple of success at this level.

Solskjaer is well-liked but not an elite coach and the Norwegian has surely taken United as far as he can. The 5-0 humiliation at the hands of Liverpool last weekend had an end-of-days feel and was followed by reports of the squad's reservations about their manager and Antonio Conte's apparent interest in the job.

There appears little to be gained by keeping Solskjaer in position, particularly as a win over Nuno's Spurs would prove little, and Saturday’s match feels like the start of a stay of execution.

Perhaps United are spooked by the dearth of obvious replacements outside of Conte, which Tottenham discovered in the summer after talks with the Italian broke down.

Spurs settled for Nuno and, truth be told, there has been little in his brief reign to suggest the initial reservations about his style and suitability for the job were unfounded.

Both clubs covet Mauricio Pochettino, although Paris Saint-Germain are unwilling to entertain interest in their manager.

That said, it is still early days for Nuno and, unlike Solskjaer, he is not thought to be in immediate danger with a defeat on Saturday, with an acceptance at Spurs that they are starting a new cycle which could take years to peak.

However, both fanbases share a gnawing feeling that the current state of affairs is unsustainable, barring a dramatic improvement that feels beyond the skill-set of the manager.

While Solskjaer constantly evokes "the United way" and the club's storied past, Nuno has been reluctant to talk-up Tottenham's traditions and has often appeared a man trapped between the way he knows how to play and the way he is expected to play.

If there is a future for the Portuguese at Spurs, he must find a means of maximising their attacking talent and turn them into an entertaining side, although on Saturday his brand of caution may actually prove effective against Solskjaer's rabble.

 (Manchester United via Getty Images)
(Manchester United via Getty Images)

United were a mess of half-baked pressing and wide open spaces against Liverpool and a solid counter-punching approach could win the day for Nuno, as it did against Manchester City.

Both squads are under-coached, less than the sum of their parts and reliant on individualism in the final third, so the contest may be decided by a series of individual battles, rather than grand tactical plans.

The most obvious on paper is the clash of the Harrys: Kane and Maguire. England's two most important players have been woefully out of form since the European Championship and each will be hoping to capitalise on the other's malaise.

Wednesday's Carabao Cup win at Burnley was another frustrating night for Kane, who twice squandered openings, but for the second game running he could easily have finished with a goal and an assist. His partnership with Heung-min Son also appears to be slowly reforming, suggesting the England captain is inching in the right direction.

Having Kane back to his best would instantly solve many of Nuno's problems.

Perhaps the more important battle will come at the other end, where Cristian Romero will presumably be tasked with shadowing Cristiano Ronaldo.

Romero is growing in authority and importance for Spurs and he was impressive in keeping Michail Antonio down last weekend, even if the West Ham striker scored the winner.

The Argentine can be expected to take an ultra-aggressive and assertive approach to challenging Ronaldo, who is lucky to be available after his frustration boiled over against Liverpool, and it should be an intriguing contest.

Back to the managers, and it feels important to acknowledge that the pressure on Solskjaer and Nuno misses the wider point about the decline of these two clubs.

It is the decisions of the ownership rather than the managers that have seen United and Spurs fall behind their rivals, so, for all their shortcomings, if one or both of Solskjaer and Nuno lose their job soon, it will not necessarily be a fix-all.

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