Now three seasons into his tenure in charge of Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjær still seems to be struggling to get to grips with the challenges of European football. A busy summer, which included the arrivals of Jadon Sancho, Raphaël Varane and the return of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, filled the Old Trafford faithful with confidence ahead of the 2021-22 season.
Solid Premier League start undone in Switzerland for Solskjær
However, after a solid start to the Premier League season, Man United’s Champions League campaign opened with a familiar feat — the taste of defeat. The Red Devils travelled to Switzerland to take on Young Boys at the Wankdorf Stadium, and despite Ronaldo giving the visitors an early lead, a red card for Aaron Wan-Bissaka shortly after turned the tides, and David Wagner’s side came back to win 2-1, with the help of a sloppy back-pass by Jesse Lingard.
It is a loss that would have been a bitter pill to swallow for Solskjær, especially as his side seemed to have proceedings under control before the sending off changed the game. However, it also leaves a dire record in Europe’s premier club competition hanging over the head of the Norwegian. But, just how bad is the 48-year-old’s record in the Champions League? Read on as we dissect the stats and figures.
Solskjær has worst European win rate record of recent times
The defeat to Young Boys was Solskjær’s 11th Champions League game since taking over from the sacked Jose Mourinho in December 2018, and, incredibly, it was his seventh loss in the competition — a record that is truly hard to fathom considering Man United’s prowess and stature in the European game.
After taking over from Mourinho in 2018, Solskjær lost his first Champions League game in charge of the Red Devils to Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16, suffering a 2-0 defeat at home. However, he managed to turn around that deficit in the second leg, winning 3-1 at the Parc des Princes to progress to the quarter-finals, where they were beaten home and away by Barcelona, with the tie ending 4-0 on aggregate.
In failing to qualify for the Champions League in 2019-20, United returned to the competition last season, and they embarrassingly crashed out in the group stage. After impressive wins against PSG and RB Leipzig, they looked nailed on in the betting exchange for a place in the knockout stages. However, a shock defeat away to Basaksehir seemed to rock their steady ship, and further losses away to RB Leipzig and at home to PSG consigned them to the Europa League — where they lost in the final to Villarreal.
Seven defeats in 11 Champions League games makes for grim reading, and Solskjær’s shocking loss rate of 66% is the worst of any manager in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era, whilst a win rate of 36.4% is only slightly better than that of Louis van Gaal (33.3%).
That’s not exactly the kind of record you want on your CV — especially when you add in the fact that the Norwegian is yet to win a trophy during his spell at Old Trafford.
Is it harsh to criticise Solskjær?
Some would say that it is harsh to slate Solskjær too heavily as he has had to play the likes of PSG, Barcelona and RB Leipzig in over half of those games. However, that is the kind of opposition you have to face if you want to compete in the Champions League, so there are no excuses.
Man United’s performances in the competition needs to improve drastically and fast, as the games against Villarreal and Atalanta will be no walk in the park, especially the away legs in Spain and Italy. Solskjær’s job is safe, but the club’s hierarchy and the fans could begin to grow frustrated with the manager if this is another season without reaching the Champions League knockouts.