What a striking mess, Manchester United: Neil Humphreys
Red Devils manager Solskjaer pays price for failing to replace Lukaku up front
Marcus Rashford clutched his leg. He glared towards the dugout. He shook his head.
His race was run.
|WEST HAM UNITED||MANCHESTER UNITED|
And Manchester United are running out of options.
Their wretched 2-0 defeat at West Ham United last night was indicative of an encroaching crisis that is arguably of their manager's making.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a striker short of a respectable challenge for the top four and he is a couple of strikers short of being a respected United manager.
The Red Devils have fewer attacking options than the Hammers, if not the majority of English Premier League sides that understand the basics of a balanced squad.
If one is sold, another must be bought to restore the equilibrium. That's pretty much how it works for a teenager playing the Football Manager computer game.
But when Rashford limped off in the 61st minute, having been largely anonymous for the previous 60, Solskjaer's pre-season error of judgment haunted proceedings once more.
His decision to sell Romelu Lukaku - without signing an adequate replacement - has gone from being a mild concern to a potentially calamitous mistake.
Solskjaer's faith in Mason Greenwood's predatory instincts seemed idealistic at the start of the season.
Now it seems naive, perhaps even self-destructive.
Indeed, a missing kid truly illustrated United's attacking mediocrity.
His sudden bout of tonsillitis was certainly a loss for his team-mates.
A raw 17-year-old boy, who scored his first goal in the Europa League only last week, is already conspicuous by his absence, which is such an indictment of a flailing club.
With Greenwood, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial all missing with various ailments, Rashford was left to plough a lonely furrow.
He continues to tell everyone prepared to listen - which is everyone except Solskjaer - that he doesn't feel comfortable in the No.9 role. At the London Stadium, he didn't look comfortable in a United jersey.
Until his substitution, Rashford drifted between lethargic and listless, seldom making the runs that a poacher instinctively makes. He seemed to be overthinking his every move.
He looked desperately unhappy.
So did those around him. An air of resignation hung over United's abject performance.
Their 4-2-3-1 formation lacked width, pace, ingenuity and, inexplicably, any sort of tenacity through the middle.
Was this really an improvement on anything produced by the man smirking in a TV studio?
Jose Mourinho must have struggled to contain his smugness as his former side once again underlined the gulf between the Red Devils and the genuine top-four contenders.
When West Ham went ahead before half-time, through Andriy Yarmolenko's excellent low strike, they took the path of least resistance.
In the build-up, Mark Noble was permitted nine touches around the box, his opponents backing off until the veteran began to resemble an English Andrea Pirlo. Somehow, the 32-year-old kept going until Yarmolenko took over and found the bottom corner.
United have now failed to keep a clean sheet on the road in seven months. Do not expect that unwanted record to end any time soon.
Nemanja Matic struggles to provide the formidable defensive shield that once defined his game and was replaced in the second half, but he was hardly the only culprit.
Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira were strangely muted throughout as United toiled like like a stuttering juggernaut in a futile search for a higher gear.
Even Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James, so lively and enterprising of late, seemed to succumb to the lack of self-belief around them.
No one among the United plodders came close to rivalling Yarmolenko's ingenuity. Like his predecessor, Solskjaer is struggling to improve his players, a failing that saw off three previous United managers.
West Ham's outstanding second goal in the 84th minute, a whipped free-kick into the top corner from Aaron Cresswell, was as deserving as it was unsurprising.
Based on this performance, the Hammers will finish above United in the final standings.
The woeful Red Devils simply do not have the right man up front. Any more of this and they'll be wondering if they have the right man in the dugout.