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Thursday 23 January 2020

League Cup success could be a stepping stone for Ole

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

It was one of those 20th anniversary celebrations which was not really celebrated by anyone.

Last weekend was 20 years since the FA Cup third round went ahead without the presence of Manchester United, the Cup holders.

They willingly skipped the competition so they could play in the World Cup Championship, a decision which Alex Ferguson later admitted was a mistake but it was a sign of how little esteem they had for one of the domestic cups in England.

How that has changed heading into 2020. Tonight's game, the first leg of their League Cup semi-final meeting with Manchester City, is a derby but more than that.

When the big trophies are not within reach (and it could be a long time before United are competing for the Premier League or Champions League again), you take what's going.

If the demands of the new reality mean slumming it in the League Cup and FA Cup, then thy will be done.

United have already gone through two whole seasons without some silverware, and this is shaping up to be a third, unless they can spark joy in the FA Cup, League Cup or Europa League.

Liverpool picked up three trophies in 2019 alone, one biggie (the Champions League) and two of the lesser ones (European Super Cup, World Club Championship).

For United supporters to see their rivals at Anfield and the Etihad celebrate success while they endure their own mediocrity is painful.

Many people (a lot of them attached to the Old Trafford club) were embarrassed when Jose Mourinho gave that infamous three-fingered salute to indicate how many trophies he won in one season at United. That the club's boss now counted the Community Shield as a major honour was, in itself, a dishonour.

Winning is a habit but losing had become a habit for United.

The club which hoovered up so much silverware in the Ferguson era, when the Community Shield barely counted has lost that edge, that hunger.

Which is why there is a need for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to deliver some trophies, and as soon as possible.

United and City face off twice in the League Cup this month so there will be a Manchester club in the final.

There is a belief that the modern player is not driven by the need to pick up medals but is more motivated by a social-media presence. Who cares about winning the Carabao Cup when you have 10,000 more Instagram followers that a rival player?

Solskjaer even touched on this topic this week when he spoke about Jesse Lingard's online life, amid some claims that Lingard's apparent lift in form was linked to the player spending more time offline.

Under Mourinho, a Community win was seen as his success, less so than a win for the club.

Subsequently, the United players have not seen a trophy come their way.

It looks like they are going about things the hard way in the FA Cup, and if playing for 90 minutes without a single shot on target away to Wolves (as they did in their drawn game in the third round), that competition will be avoiding United this season, just as United gave the FA Cup a very wide berth 20 years ago.

United challenging for the league title and the Champions League is currently a fanciful dream.

But a Cup final, and a win on that final stage, is not something which would be a bonus for Solskjaer - it should be a core demand.

Beating City this evening won't make their season, but beating them over two legs, and then winning the Cup, would show that there is a heart beating at Manchester United after all.

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