-Manchester United cannot follow Liverpool FC blueprint to return to summit
Amid comparisons between Jurgen Klopp’s relentless Premier League champions elect and Sir Alex Ferguson’s vintage United teams of yesteryear, it’s a point worth restating. Especially as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer considers his own rebuild of United with a view of returning to English football’s summit. The deficit in league title wins is very likely to be reduced to 20-19 soon.
There have been many comments from pundits in recent weeks and months suggesting United must follow Liverpool’s blueprint for an assault on the Premier League once again. In theory, it sounds fine and dandy but United simply aren’t set up that way. Solskjaer is already embarking on a different path with this United side.
Gary Neville was both right and wrong in his assessment of United’s progress and what they must now do.
“Solskjaer is working more with a squad like the one Klopp picked up at Liverpool than the one Guardiola inherited at City,” said Neville in September, analysing an up and down start to the season.
“From that point of view this is going to be a long game at Old Trafford and it’s going to be frustrating at times.
“But when you watch the team a lot of the principles are correct.
“They seem to be playing the right way. The style of it is right. The bones are there but there’s still a very long way to go.
“It’s going to be bumpy along the way.”
While Neville was right about Pep Guardiola and Man City being the wrong example for United to follow, he wasn’t quite right about Liverpool.
Such was the dramatic drop in the Merseysiders’ fortunes at the start of Klopp’s tenure — finishing sixth in the season before he was appointed in October 2015 and eighth in his first campaign — and the 25 years of hurt that preceded his arrival, Liverpool had time on their side.
The team for Klopp’s first game was: Mignolet, Clyne, Skrtel, Sakho, Moreno, Leiva, Can, Milner, Lallana, Coutinho, Origi. It would be fair to say none of those players are now in the Liverpool first team; only one in James Milner is even close. That shows the transformation that has taken place under the former Borussia Dortmund coach.
And while Solskjaer and Ed Woodward talk about a ‘long term’ rebuild, a ‘cultural reboot’ as they term it, United cannot afford four more years of transition, like Liverpool had to queue up their current success. It’s already been more than six years since Ferguson’s retirement and bad decisions have left United 25 points off the Premier League summit they used to regularly surmount.
Some may (slightly unfairly) argue United’s current team is a similar level to that one Klopp inherited. Thankfully for Solskjaer, the rapid emergence of young players like Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams coupled with the major transfer funds that ought to be available to spend means United could complete their rebuild in much quicker time.
The other issue at United is that supporters retain sky-high expectations, with any finish outside the top four deemed a failure for managers. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho all paid the price for substandard league positions with their jobs. Solskjaer has been afforded more time, but a trophyless season and a finish outside the top four would test the United board’s loyalty.
No, United cannot follow Liverpool in knocking the house down to build it back up. They must renovate, chip away at the deadwood and sow seeds for the near future.
The signings of players like Andy Robertson and Gini Wijnaldum, both from relegated clubs, are examples of where United can learn from Liverpool. They must make the right choices when delving in the transfer market.
But the Old Trafford club, with a greater emphasis on their homegrown players and an ability to invest right away, are under more pressure to find a quick fix. The supporters could not countenance a 30-year title drought, for example.
Liverpool may well show United on Sunday the size of the yawning chasm between the two clubs. It will then be up to United to close it — and quickly.