Manchester Evening News - - FRONT PAGE - By SA­MUEL LUCKHURST

CITY are pos­si­bly re­spon­si­ble for United re­sist­ing an­other pre-Christ­mas man­age­rial change.

One has to won­der what Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer’s ap­proval rat­ings would have been with­out the wins over the Blues and Tot­ten­ham, for his Reds ap­pear to be all big-game nous and small-time men­tal­ity.

This was the new nadir of the sea­son, if not Sol­sk­jaer’s year-long reign. This was more egre­gious than the sur­ren­der at West Ham and noth­ing­ness at New­cas­tle.

When­ever Lon­don’s call­ing, a melt­down is ex­pected from this United side.

Wat­ford were win­less at home in the Pre­mier League and had mus­tered five goals be­fore their most oblig­ing op­po­nents rocked up.

That they in­flicted a fifth league de­feat on United was ut­terly un­sur­pris­ing and in keep­ing with a squad their man­ager reg­u­larly over-es­ti­mates.

Sol­sk­jaer fate­fully de­cided to name an un­changed side that eked out only a draw against rel­e­ga­tion bat­tlers against more rel­e­ga­tion bat­tlers.

Five times Sol­sk­jaer has named an un­changed league XI this sea­son and five times United have failed to win – draw­ing with Ever­ton and los­ing at Crys­tal Palace, West Ham, Bournemout­h and now Wat­ford. The man­ager al­lowed the pat­tern to con­tinue and the com­pla­cency per­me­ated through his piti­ful play­ers.

Such el­e­men­tary er­rors pose more ques­tions about the man­ager’s suit­abil­ity to make the Reds com­pet­i­tive again.

For they have squan­dered 15 points against the league’s bot­tom seven now and had to turn to Paul Pogba ahead of sched­ule. What­ever the French­man’s flaws, he can­not be blamed for an­gling to leave a club that is in a much worse state than when he re­joined in 2016. He was the best of an abysmal bunch fol­low­ing his 64th-minute in­tro­duc­tion and will walk back into the start­ing XI on Box­ing Day.

United in­vested £130m in their de­fence in the sum­mer and have now gone 13 league fix­tures with­out a clean sheet.

Harry Maguire needs to step up lit­er­ally - to sup­ple­ment at­tacks and gov­ern as a United cap­tain should, Luke Shaw still has to be told where to move by the man­ager nearly three years af­ter Jose Mour­inho used his brain and Shaw’s body. David de Gea and Vic­tor Lin­de­lof, re­warded new con­tracts in Septem­ber, have re­gressed. Aaron Wan-Bis­saka cracked with a mist­imed slide that gifted Wat­ford a morale-crush­ing

penalty. De Gea’s an­nus hor­ri­bilis con­tin­ued with a clanger of the like that, prior to 2019, be­longed to his first sea­son.

His holo­gram hands that en­abled Is­maila Sarr to put Wat­ford ahead is enough of a rea­son for his place to no longer be as­sured with an able deputy in Ser­gio Romero avail­able.

It was such a por­ten­tous day the United team coach ar­rived so late for an­other Lon­don match­day Pogba’s re­turn to the 18 was con­firmed be­fore he had dis­em­barked the coach.

Mar­tyn Pert, one of Sol­sk­jaer’s coach­ing lieu­tenants, ar­rived ahead of the squad, though it is un­clear whether he had had enough of the traf­fic and con­cluded his route by foot, a la Mour­inho.

Present press of­fi­cers were tasked with sub­mit­ting the team amid the late ar­rival. How­ever il­log­i­cal it was to re­tain the side that was held by rel­e­ga­tion bat­tlers

Such el­e­men­tary er­rors pose more ques­tions about the man­ager’s suit­abil­ity to make the Reds com­pet­i­tive again

Ever­ton, it was also log­i­cal and a re­flec­tion of the lim­i­ta­tions in a squad fol­low­ing an­other un­ful­fill­ing sum­mer trans­fer win­dow. An­dreas Pereira per­formed against a

League Two team in mid­week and Juan

Mata is al­most ex­clu­sively a cup player these days.

Sources at United in­sist there is a high pos­si­bil­ity they could go with­out re­cruit­ing any­one in Jan­uary.

Fail to do that and they may have to re­cruit a new man­ager, though they would not re­quire a need­less long list of 804 can­di­dates.

Em­bar­rass­ingly for United, they ap­pear to have called off their search for a new left-back just as it has be­come a prob­lem po­si­tion again.

Sol­sk­jaer has rarely looked so vexed as he did in the first half. He had to in­struct Scott McTom­i­nay to rein in his over­hit pass­ing and of­fered an in­dig­nant shrug at Maguire, again fail­ing to step up to sup­ple­ment at­tacks. Jesse Lin­gard dug out Fred, but would dig a hole for him­self later


Lin­gard, one of the con­tentious se­lec­tions, should have vin­di­cated the faith at a ground where he earned the moniker ‘Messi Lin­gard’ two years ago.

In­stead, his one-on-one dink looped onto the top of Ben Fos­ter’s net in a an ab­ject first half.

The pil­lo­ried Cats film is not the only spec­ta­cle spec­ta­tors wish they could have un­seen this week. For United sup­port­ers, it was the full run­ning time.

Ma­son Green­wood’s warm-up co­in­cided with the restart yet it was Wat­ford who went on the at­tack and Sarr’s harm­less loop­ing strike passed the hands of De Gea.

Four min­utes later, Troy Deeney con­verted a fourth penalty against United in six sea­sons at Vicarage Road af­ter Wan-Bis­saka over­es­ti­mated his long legs.

Pogba and Mar­cus Rash­ford bat­tled more than most, the former throw­ing his gloves to the crowd at full time.

He ap­plauded the United sup­port­ers and they did like­wise. His ap­proval rat­ings are high again. Sol­sk­jaer’s are not.

Paul Pogba back in ac­tion for United

WAT­FORD, ENG­LAND - DE­CEM­BER Reds’ Aaron 22: David Wan-Bis­saka De Gea of brings down Is­maila Sarr for Wat­ford’s penalty

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