Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under pressure again
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under pressure again

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Is Man Utd manager out of his depth?

We're eight games into the Premier League season - one-fifth of the way through - and at the point when it no longer feels like the beginning.

Patterns are forming, the table is starting to set, and at the end of an enjoyably erratic day of action the main dividing line appears to be whether clubs have the presence or absence of a clear plan.

Does your team have an obvious strategy? Can you name, in a few key phrases, the tactical style your team is working towards and the partnerships and shapes that form most frequently when they're on the attack?

If you can't - if it all looks a bit fuzzy – then it's likely your team isn't up to speed with the demands of the modern game. For at least three of the big losers on Saturday it really looks as though that is the case.

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What is Man Utd's plan?

Manchester United's improvisational football has recently become a mainstream concern of supporters. Even friendly pundits, who tend to shield their old team-mate from criticism, are beginning to ask what on earth the point is of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team.

The 4-2 defeat at Leicester City, which ended their unbeaten away run and left United on a worrying 14 points from eight games, is just another citation added to the story of his tenure.

It is time to be blunt. There is no underlying plan here. No real idea of how to play beyond picking a formation and demanding attacking football in meaningless buzzwords.

Any team with a detailed strategy, like Leicester, will out-think, out-move, and out-perform Soslkjaer's team – every single time. Some days the sheer talent in the Man Utd 11 will allow them to win the moments and take the points despite being outplayed, but sometimes it won't.

That is not a recipe for a title challenge. It isn't a recipe at all.

Leicester finding their feet

By contrast, on Saturday Leicester looked like they knew exactly where to pass and move, how to synchronise, when to press, and how to exploit United's weaknesses.

In short, they showed all the signs of a team being coached by someone who really understands the contours of the game; how to fine-tune a performance with deep and meaningful analysis.

This hasn't always been the case, of course, but today Brendan Rodgers finally switched back to the 3-5-2 formation that had served him so well last season and immediately his players clicked into gear.

James Maddison was a maverick creative presence, finding space as a number ten largely because Man Utd's defensive and midfield lines were hopelessly disconnected, while Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho continued their brilliant parnership together. That's now 36 goals from their last 34 starts together.

Leicester should kick on from here, back in the right formation and ready to challenge Man Utd for fourth place.

Villa struggling without 'give it to Grealish' tactics

It was the headline result of the day and the starkest example of the strategy gap, although it was also prominent in Liverpool's 5-0 win over Watford and Aston Villa's 3-2 defeat at home to Wolves.

Both Claudio Ranieri and Dean Smith have far more of an excuse than Solskjaer – the former has only just arrived at Vicarage Road and the latter is rebuilding following the sale of Jack Grealish – but both sets of supporters will be rightly alarmed.

Smith isn't much of a details man, it would seem. Throughout the last three years Villa have floated through matches, roughly in formation but relying on winning the battles and on moments of magic rather than an obvious collective purpose.

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'Give it to Grealish' was a pretty fall-proof idea last season but without him the absence of a highly-structured tactical plan is showing more clearly than ever. It is too easy to poke holes in this team and too often they drift out of position, unsure of how to progress the ball through the lines.

Even at 2-0 up they had not convinced.

Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins didn't look like they had been given specific instructions and were barely in the game, leading to long stretches in which the Villa defenders dallied on the ball, without an option to stretch Wolves.

Strong performances from John McGinn and Emiliano Buendia papered over the cracks but, as usual, one was left to ponder: what exactly are Villa trying to be?

Very different teams, but very similar problems

What Villa and Man Utd have in common is the capacity to look very organised when made to sit deep and play on the counter, only to become lost when opening up.

That's hardly surprising: falling into a compressed shape is a fairly two-dimensional way to play and therefore the easiest tactical strategy to coach and to learn.

The really complex stuff alludes both managers.

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Ranieri needs time after muddled start

Watford have time to settle, but their 5-0 defeat at Vicarage Road showed their similar issue under Xisco – who couldn't seem to decide between a defensive or adventurous setup.

Ranieri will definitely plump for the former, his system only just falling short of the old-fashioned approach of tying rope around the two banks of four in training.

Having had so little time with his players, it is no wonder they were still stuck between a rock and a hard place, maddeningly open and caught by Liverpool's press for the decisive first two goals.

Which brings us neatly on to perhaps the most brilliantly complex machine in the country, a team schooled with such extraordinary and innovative tactical detail we often take it for granted.

Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp, now back to their best thanks to the end of their injury crisis, are the archetype of a team coached to microscopic levels.

Everything is in sync, not by accident or individual quality but by mechanised work on the training ground and a scrutiny of the opposition that goes way beyond anything we have seen from Smith's Villa or Solskjaer's Man Utd.

It is a prerequisite of elite management in the modern era and United supporters in particular ought to demand that this intelligence, this cutting-edge insight, is applied to their world-class players.

Leicester ended Man Utd's away run on Saturday
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