The title may be confusing, but in all its sense-- if the statement is true-- it’s nothing but a compliment to Manchester United. The club with all its might and stature, why would beating above its weight be considered a compliment?
Because the might and the stature we are talking about is mostly a historic phenomenon at this point. A great manager came to the club 45 years ago and won 2 Champions League trophies, 5 FA Cups and 13 Premierships in his 28-year tenure.
Since that great man, Sir Alex Ferguson, left the club in 2013, trophies have been scarce. The next three managers in their combined 6 seasons have managed to win only 5 trophies for United, none of which is a Premiership or the Champions League trophy.
Enter the stage, the prodigy, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He had a glorious career under Ferguson in the ‘90s and 2000s. Although he joined as an interim manager, he soon won the trust of the fans through the old school Ferguson style attacking gameplay.
The student, however, hasn’t yet replicated the success of the teacher in terms of winning trophies. In his career as the United first-team manager, Ole is yet to win any trophy; although his team reached five semi-finals across different fixtures, including the recent one in the Europa League, four of which they have lost.
United in its EPL fixture, has so far only lost four games. This is the least number of matches lost by any team this season and equal to the current leader- Manchester City. But their real loss was in the failure to turn draws into wins as the team have drawn 9 matches in the season, one of the highest in the league and four more than the citizens.
The reasons could be multipronged. At times the defence seemed to have turned off. For instance, the 3-3 draw with Everton at Old Trafford, where United was ahead with two goals but ended up conceding a 95-minute leveller from Calvert-Lewin, which was initially headed in by Digne.
The footage shows Harry Maguire playing lengths away from the United defensive line and playing Digne from the side initially. The same incident occurred on other different occasions where a single player from the United line played opposition players on-side and they scored from a set-piece. In many cases, the defence was caught out by a good cross, because they were playing an audacious high line.
In some games, the attack seemed toothless. This has also happened at games where United won. Especially the first half of the away games where United would repeatedly fell behind and came back in the second, some of which ended up in draw. For instance, the 2-2 draw with Leicester where Rashford missed two easy chances t0 put the ball in the net.
There are issues starting from squad selection to individual performance. Take the case of a 3-2 away win against Southampton. United finished the first half conceding 2 goals and failing to create a single credible chance.
Then Ole subbed in Cavani, who scored two goals and assisted in another which dramatically changed the scoreline. At the same time, some infield changes were made too, where Bruno retained his original place on the left-hand side, exchanging places with Van De Beek. This finally opened up space for him and allowed him to create chances.
Some players had been a ghost of their past throughout the season. Martial comes first in this list who has been very ineffective for the most part of the season. Although Rashford is the second top scorer for United this season, he is not always clinical in front of the goal.
And misfortune of Donny Van De Beek continues, as the talented player remained benched in most of the games. At the same time injury of some of the key players, such as Pogba, Bailly or Cavani, really limited the options for the manager.
However, Ole is slowly building the team towards his philosophy. The results are visible. United has now one of the most impressive away records in history. They won all of their games since the recent international break. They are now playing at the semi-finals of the Europa being one of the favourites to win the championship. They are also secure in the 2nd position in the league, which almost confirms their entry to CL next season.
At this point, Ole needs some quality players. With the rumours of Cavani leaving the club, a proper replacement is needed. A seasoned right-winger would be handy for Ole as Greenwood is yet to mature for the role. More options are needed in the right-back, midfield and centre-back positions.
With these shortcomings, Ole and the United are surely beating above their weight for now. Come next season, when these needs are met and Ole’s philosophy is more matured, United should be able to bring back its glory days.
Sheikh Tausif Ahmed is a third-year BSS student at the Department of Economics, University of Dhaka.