Speaking on his latest podcast, Gary Neville says Man Utd must learn to play like a team if they are to challenge for the title, and must win a trophy in the next 18 months.
United lost for the third time in four games in all competitions, going down 1-0 at home to Aston Villa on Saturday following their Carabao Cup third-round defeat by West Ham on Wednesday.
After signing Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane in the summer, Neville says there is pressure on the club to win a trophy in the next 18 months, but he believes the club will see out the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer project, because sacking managers previously has not worked.
Neville also reflects on Manchester City’s impressive win at Chelsea on Saturday, as well as Arsenal’s north London derby blitz against Tottenham on Super Sunday.
‘Man Utd don’t play well enough as a team’
I said it even when they were winning, even when Ronaldo scored, they don’t play well enough as a team to win this league in my view. They don’t play well enough as a team.
I think you have to be a unit in and out of possession, and when you only deliver in moments, those moments won’t go for you in certain games. You need patterns of play, you need a way of playing, and at this moment in time I still see a group of individuals playing in moments, with some patterns and combinations at times, but still a team where some are pretty new together – Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho – but they’ve got to come together as a team and start to define a style of play. Then you start to get results when you don’t play well.
The way they are at the moment, they’ll always have days like Saturday against Villa. They’ll have patches of four or five games where they only win two, but then they’ll go and win 15 on the bounce and be unbeaten away from home for a while.
That’s the type of team they are. I have called them the odd bunch, because I still look at them and think of them as a team who win games in moments.
I look at Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City, they are teams. They put team performances in. That’s not to say United never do, but Ole now has to get United into a team.
I said two weeks ago that the Ronaldo signing was make or break. That’s not me putting pressure on the players or manager, it’s a matter of fact. If you sign Edinson Cavani, Bruno Fernandes, Ronaldo, Varane and Sancho, you’ve got to then win a trophy at some point in the next 12 to 18 months. This season or next, when Ronaldo is here, that’s why it’s a make or break signing. They have to win a trophy.
That’s why the West Ham result was bad on Wednesday. I’m sat there at home watching, thinking: “This is one of trophies they can win.” Actually, I’ve seen this trophy be a springboard for teams to be really successful. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, two of the greatest managers in the world in the last 20 years, have won that trophy as a springboard. Sir Alex Ferguson too in 2005/06. I lifted the trophy, and all of a sudden in two years later we were in Champions League finals and winning it. It was the first real trophy of the Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney years.
Go and beat West Ham, get to the next round and win a trophy in March. Then there is impetus for the rest of the season, and the confidence is there. There is definitely some pressure building after Saturday, but they’ll win five or six games on the bounce. They might lose on Wednesday against Villarreal or against Everton at the weekend, but they’ll then go and win games on the bounce.
There was a lot of ‘Ole out’ talk on Saturday. The club have done that over the last eight or 10 years. It’s not worked. They will see this project through; I don’t like calling a managerial reign projects, but they will see this through.
They’ve had great managers, world class managers, international managers in the building, and it’s not worked for the club or the fans. The style of play, whatever it might be. However, it does seem at this moment that the dressing room is happy. But they’ve got to start becoming a team.
I know what’s going to happen when I see Man City building up from the back. I know what’s going to happen at Liverpool. When Man Utd are building from the back or through midfield, I don’t know what’s coming next sometimes.
‘Spurs players don’t look a happy bunch’
I loved Mauricio Pochettino. I loved watching some of his coaching sessions while I was with England and the complexity of them. I loved the rotations in midfield and the way in which he pressed.
I thought of him as a really high-level coach. The young Spurs players he had – the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli – really responded to that and got great results.
They didn’t win a trophy but they got to really good places in the Champions League, second in the league and they loved it. Spurs ran more than most teams and pressed more than most teams.
They were always proactive and on the front foot. They didn’t always win but there was a real belief running through the club. Since he left, the word I’ve used is ‘basic’ and that’s what it has become at Spurs.
Those players have seen good tactical, modern instruction through Pochettino and then something very different with Jose [Mourinho] and Nuno [Espirito Santo].
They’ve got a more basic approach to the game in terms of trying to sit back, be more compact and try to spring off that. At the moment, we’re seeing a Spurs team that’s trying to adapt to Nuno and he’s adapting to them.
They don’t look a completely happy bunch. I’m not saying for one second that Nuno’s lost the dressing room – I don’t feel that’s the case at all. But they just don’t look happy on the pitch. Their body language isn’t great.
They don’t look like they quite believe this is the way they want to play. He was either the fifth or sixth-choice manager and when that happens, it’s never great.
They tried to chase Brendan Rodgers and other managers who’ve got a different style to Nuno. He’s got a good way of playing but at Wolves it was a pragmatic style – a compact, deep defence built to counter-attack.
Spurs fans and Spurs players have been used to the Pochettino style and even under Jose it wasn’t as good a style but they still scored lots of goals and created lots of chances.
At the moment, they’re getting to know each other and they’re still learning to believe in each other. There’s a bit of a despondency through the group emanating I have to say through Harry Kane.
We’ve watched him a long time and he doesn’t look happy. We know how professional he is, but at the moment he doesn’t look himself.
Spurs collectively looked clueless from the start of the game in terms of their gameplan. They were knocking it long and they really did look clueless. They didn’t look like they had the appetite and courage to play through midfield.
They’ve been poor at that for two years but today was as bad as I’ve seen it. They played aimless long balls which just gave Arsenal more encouragement. There was no response from Spurs when Arsenal got the first goal.
When Arsenal then sat back, they didn’t look like they knew how to play against a deep-lying defence. It was poor in every aspect. I don’t think every Spurs player when the ball passed them were sprinting back either in that first half.
There were two or three of them ambling back. They were ambling across the pitch slowly and that’s not good enough in this game. I’d never seen this game before live at the stadium before working at Sky and I’ve loved this game for 10 years.
I’ve always felt it’s a game with tension and an edge. It’s always been a good game to watch and commentate on, but it can also highlight where teams are going under a little bit.
I felt that Tottenham team went under today. I wasn’t good and the reason those Tottenham fans were getting up in the first half and leaving was because they were seeing the same things I was seeing.
You cannot kid a football fan and they knew their team weren’t at it. There are ways of losing and Spurs were having them over.
‘Arteta’s gameplan was perfect’
Both teams are on the exact same number of points after this game and yet one group of fans will be depressed with what they’ve seen today and they’ll feel like they’re on a downward trajectory whereas Arsenal were absolutely all over the place three weeks ago and now they’ve left this stadium bouncing.
They’re on the same points still so that’s football. But Arsenal look like a team who’ve got their players back. We watched the defeat to Brentford on the opening night and I was really worried with what I saw.
They were out-fought and out-thought as well. You felt it would be a long season for Arsenal and that Mikel Arteta was coming under a lot of pressure.
But today, when the team news came through and you saw the three young ones of Odegaard, Smith Rowe and Saka behind Aubameyang, and Arsenal’s pressing today was really important. It set the tone.
I thought Arsenal had lost Aubameyang a few months ago. He looked like he didn’t want to be there anymore but today he set the tone as the striker with the speed of his pressing aided by the young ones in behind.
Tottenham were well off it in every aspect. Arsenal’s back four was allowed to grow in confidence and when they got the opening goal, they sat back which meant they were always compact.
When they were ahead, they were well set up to counter-attack so Arteta’s gameplan was perfect. Spurs got it completely wrong but Arteta got it completely right.
He’s now in the ascendancy and everyone’s buzzing again around here.”
‘City proved what a team they are’
Thomas Tuchel is one of the great managers in the world in the last 12 months with what he’s done, But when it wasn’t working with two up front and three in midfield, with City getting too much joy, I thought he would have changed it after 20, 25 minutes. He let it go, and it gave City so much confidence.
I’ve talked about Chelsea glowingly on the last few weeks, but sometimes a great team just reminds you what you are. I thought City on Saturday reminded us what they are.
To go to Chelsea, who are in that form with three big results – a draw at Liverpool, beating Arsenal, beating Spurs – and then City beat them away 1-0. City were fantastic on Saturday, and they should have won by more. That was really impressive from City.