Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insists he does not perceive fans’ frustration over the Red Devils business in the transfer window, but needs a fast start to the new Premier League season against Chelsea on Sunday to turn the tide of opinion at Old Trafford.
Frank Lampard will take charge of his first competitive game in charge of Chelsea, but while some of the pressure on the Blues’ record goalscorer to make an instant impact has been eased to due a transfer ban this summer, Solskjaer’s honeymoon period is over.
The Norwegian enjoyed an incredible start to his time in charge as caretaker boss last season, but after being handed the job on a permanent basis, won just one of United’s final nine games of the season to finish sixth in the Premier League.
A huge summer rebuild was forecast, even by Solskjaer himself, but only three players have arrived in the form of Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James.
Moreover, United have sold striker Romelu Lukaku without replacing the Belgian to increase the goalscoring burden on Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and an out-of-sorts Alexis Sanchez.
Solskjaer is also not blessed with depth in midfield.
Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini have departed in recent months without replacements being recruited, meaning it is inconceivable the wantaway Paul Pogba could be let go before the end of the European transfer deadline despite interest from Real Madrid.
United fans’ fury saw calls for executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to resign start trending on Twitter in the hours after the Premier League transfer window closed on Thursday.
“Within the team and club we are feeling very confident, we don’t feel that negativity you’re talking about,” said Solskjaer at his pre-match press conference on Friday.
“That isn’t the feeling inside the club, it’s not the feeling with fans I’ve met. They are excited.”
– Maguire ‘a presence’ –
The cause for optimism is that Maguire’s signing could have the same transformative effect Virgil van Dijk’s arrival had on European champions Liverpool 18 months ago.
The England international surpassed Van Dijk as the world’s most expensive defender in an £80 million move from Leicester and will be expected to shore up a United defence that conceded 54 goals in the league alone last season.
“Harry has impressed me, very much so. He has come in as a presence,” said Solskjaer.
“He is taller and bigger than I thought. He has come in as a real plus. He will have an impact on the rest of the boys.”
Lampard has not had the luxury of star buys since taking over at Stamford Bridge and will have to cope without Chelsea’s best player of recent years after Eden Hazard’s move to Real Madrid.
Instead, the former England midfielder has had to focus on integrating a host of promising youngsters who have been farmed out on loan in past seasons.
However, rather than talk down expectations to ease the pressure on himself, Lampard believes a Chelsea squad that won the Europa League and finished third in the Premier League last season has been talked down too much due to Hazard’s departure.
“This is start of our cycle. I think it is huge for us both,” said Lampard on meeting United on the first weekend of the season.
“Can we remain competitive when we are in this position? I believe we can. We just have to accept that and use the challenge.
“I think with the ban it’s been very easy to write off this squad somewhat. And I’m not writing it off, I’m saying that we are hungry to try and prove everybody that we will be up there this year and I believe in the squad.”