At the modern Manchester United the wheel of opinion turns more quickly than ever. One short summer and one home Premier League defeat are all it takes to blacken the mood.
Confidence among the United rank and file — once the most cocksure in the country — is brittle these days, perhaps made so by too many missteps in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson years. It is more than seven years since United won the title.
This weekend feels important already. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team are at Brighton on Saturday lunchtime and, having lost to Crystal Palace in their opening game, they cannot afford another defeat.
There's concern regarding Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's backup options at Manchester United
United cannot always rely solely on the likes of Bruno Fernandes to get them out of trouble
But the following nine days matter more. They count down to the closing of the transfer window and it feels as though United need at least one more key signing if they are to bridge the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool.
Solskjaer’s squad numbers around 30. There is too much fat in it, too few prime cuts. In short, it’s not good enough. Not for this crazy, congested season.
In the second half of the last campaign, Solskjaer hit on an XI that worked. Given wit by Bruno Fernandes and speed on the counter by Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and the precocious Mason Greenwood, United were a side reborn. No more walking pace, shot-shy football.
United have a strong first XI but concerns would be raised if key stars were to get injured
But the problem that existed then remains now, and that is a surprise. When Solskjaer rested players for the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea, it was clear that the replacements were not able to move to the new United tune. At an empty Wembley, United reverted to the slothful version of a year ago and were beaten.
Solskjaer’s new United depend to a large degree on burning pace. Without it, they become meek again. Jadon Sancho is Solskjaer’s preferred purchase as he looks to find more zip, but so far Dortmund have not buckled on valuation. It feels as though that is a transfer that needs to happen.
Winger Daniel James, for instance, has yet to fully convinced since he joined United last year
Asked about his reliance on his front three on Friday, Solskjaer was bullish, saying: ‘They are top players and if any of the top teams lose two or three forwards, the creators, of course that can be an issue. Mason, Marcus and Anthony had a fantastic last season. We want to develop them together as a three. But if we lose one of them, I am pretty confident that we have players who can step in.’