IT is no longer a matter of whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has the competence to manage an elite football club.
We realised some time ago that he hasn’t.
Now, after the Red Devils were slashed to pieces by their most bitter rivals, on their own turf, it is a case of whether the Manchester United boss possesses the self-awareness — or the shame — to quit.
Nobody tends to do the decent thing and resign any more — not in politics, in football, nor anywhere else in life.
United’s board has been adamant it will not sack the Norwegian, yet there must surely come a time soon when Solskjaer can no longer find the brass neck to stand in his technical area any longer.
Or else the Glazers and their men in blazers might allow a legendary former player to leave with a semblance of dignity and a trotting-out of ‘mutual consent’.
This was utterly brutal, utterly humiliating and utterly predictable, as Liverpool ran amok with four first-half goals, Mo Salah scored for a tenth straight game, completing a 12-minute hat-trick, while Paul Pogba managed a 15-minute red card.
Solskjaer was mocked mercilessly and constantly by a gleeful travelling support as United suffered a defeat even more painfully convincing than the 6-1 defeat inflicted by Mario Balotelli and Manchester City a decade ago this week.
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Kevin Keegan once quit the England job in the Wembley toilets, when finding the humility to recognise that he wasn’t up to the job.
Solskjaer’s lack of suitability for this gig is far more apparent still. United have a squad which, while imbalanced, is still bursting with world-class players.
Yet as Liverpool kept passing and moving and sauntering past them, United lacked the basic requirements of fight, intelligence, pace and shape. They were an absolute rabble.
Pogba should surely have started such an elite fixture — but the Frenchman’s sending off for a nasty and cowardly tackle which left Naby Keita on a stretcher was a dereliction of duty.
And this was a personal horror show for captain Harry Maguire — conspicuous at the scene of all five goals and seeming to have been rushed back from injury in indecent haste for an eight-day period in which United have conceded 11 goals.
United great Paul Scholes had predicted the manner of this defeat, even after a second-half comeback papered over cracks in a 3-2 Champions League victory over Atalanta on Wednesday.
Liverpool were wonderful and they will contest a three-horse race for the Premier League title against Chelsea and Manchester City, which United might have joined with a proper manager in place.
This was utterly brutal, utterly humiliating and utterly predictable
Instead, they are in severe danger of falling away from the Champions League places altogether. After the match, Gary Neville led the Ole loyalists by claiming their man has improved the mood around Old Trafford since replacing Jose Mourinho almost three years ago.
Neville said: “This team finished second last season.” Yes but only because Liverpool didn’t have a defence and Chelsea didn’t have the right manager until January.
As always, there was plenty of talk around here about supporters showing such unswerving love for Solskjaer.
It is as if they’re all discussing a nostalgic comeback tour for a retro pop act, rather than the fortunes of a serious football club.
It began in the fifth minute, Roberto Firmino and Salah waved through by a frozen United defence and Keita applying the finishing touch.
Then a cross-field pass from Andy Robertson which Maguire and Luke Shaw both went for, both missed, allowing Keita to find Trent Alexander-Arnold who crossed for Diogo Jota to tap home on 13 minutes.
There was an air of panic around Old Trafford — every time David De Gea tried to play the ball out from the back, the Stretford End begged him not to, with Jurgen Klopp’s men in pack-of-dogs mode.
And seven minutes before the break, Salah joined in. The Egyptian having a shot blocked by Maguire, who, along with the rest of the defence, failed to react, allowing Keita to square for Salah to side-foot in at the far post.
They are in severe danger of falling away from the Champions League places altogether
First-half injury-time didn’t go well for United, either. Cristiano Ronaldo dodged a red card for kicking out at a prone Curtis Jones.
Fred escaped with a yellow for a high boot which almost took Keita’s head off, then Firmino embarrassed Maguire with a turn and Jota centred for Salah to net at the near post.
There were not so much boos, as howls of derision, at half-time.
Solskjaer sent on Pogba for Mason Greenwood but after Bruno Fernandes was booked for kicking Jones up in the air, Jordan Henderson played a gorgeous through-ball and Maguire ran through treacle as Salah sauntered through to slot past De Gea five minutes after half-time.
At this point, United had conceded eight goals in 62 minutes of Premier League football, following last weekend’s late capitulation at Leicester.
Ronaldo actually cut inside and curled one inside the far post but VAR judged him offside — leading to the loudest roar of the day from Liverpool supporters.
Pogba then committed his ugly, high-speed, over-the-top challenge on Keita — which ended with both victim and culprit leaving the pitch.
Pogba was sent off by Anthony Taylor, via a VAR intervention which shouldn’t have been required, and Keita was carried off on a stretcher.
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The level of crowing reached fever pitch as the Scousers serenaded Solskjaer with mocking versions of ‘Ole’s at the wheel’, ‘Ole must stay’ and ‘Ole gissa wave’.
It was Adam Ant who once told us that ‘ridicule is nothing to be scared of’. But it didn’t feel like it during the second half.
For anyone of a United persuasion, such levels of scorn and derision must have felt pretty damned terrifying.