Solskjaer ends the year under intense scrutiny
You have to admire Ole Gunnar Solskajer’s determination to end up back where he started.
Just as Manchester United’s manager seemed to have eased the pressure on his own position with two wins in a week over Tottenham and Manchester City, it was a case of took two steps back once again for Solskjaer’s team.
A home draw against Everton was just about acceptable. Losing to the team bottom of the league wasn’t.
There is no secret to United’s problems. They have now lost five league matches against the 12 teams below them in the league, but are unbeaten against the seven teams above them.
They have repeatedly proven themselves incapable of breaking down opponents who do not let them play on the counter attack, and leave themselves vulnerable to the same trick.
If there is a silver lining to the cloud, Solskjaer’s record against the best clubs in the league is not enough for optimism to reign.
They are ninth in the league, their lowest league position since 1989, despite having the second biggest budget.
Mauricio Pochettino should be Manchester United’s 2020 vision.
Mourinho not yet stamping his authority on Tottenham’s squad
The biggest question about Jose Mourinho’s appointment by Tottenham was how he managed to give his team the usual thrust in the right direction without the benefit of a full summer in charge.
Mourinho had always been appointed at the end of May or beginning of June, giving him a long time to imprint his demands on the squad.
This was something new.
Here, the performance was dreadful and so was the result.
All the hallmarks of 2018/19 Manchester United were there — slow possession, lack of movement for the ball, no progression from midfield, the lack of discipline, and an isolated striker.
Spurs supporters might well remark that at least two of those problems were inherited by Mourinho from Pochettino, but that doesn’t explain why the manager picked a central midfield partnership of Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko, or why Lucas Moura ended up at left wing-back.
Remember that Mourinho insisted that he didn’t need new players to improve this team.
If we saw an initial boost in their performance level post-Pochettino, that has dissipated recently. They have played poorly in four of their last five matches, the exception being a thumping home win over Burnley.
Improvement will be needed if they are to make the top four.
Ancelotti and Arteta get brutal evidence of tasks ahead
You’d think that the starting players would be out to impress Carlo Ancelotti and Mikel Arteta, but it appeared nobody got the memo.
It was a match of woeful quality, a collection of misplaced passes, misdirected shots, and long balls sent high to release the pressure.
You struggled to keep up with the amount of poor first touches between two teams who should be capable of far greater technical quality.
Ancelotti and Arteta are both tasked with pulling their clubs off their knees after an extended period of underperformance, but it is easier said than done.
Both must — and presumably will — instil some positional and tactical discipline and separate the wheat from the considerable chaff, but on Saturday we saw just why confidence is so low.
Both clubs will cross their fingers that they have finally appointed the right coaches to reignite it.
Ings is Southampton’s one lifeline in relegation fight
He is unlikely to feature in any teams of the season so far, but there can be no player more vital to his team’s success this season than Danny Ings.
His two goals on Saturday took Southampton out of the bottom three and plunged Aston Villa into trouble.
Southampton have scored 21 league goals so far this season, and Ings has netted more than half of them.
That goalscoring record is extraordinary given how creatively turgid Southampton have been.
Of all the players to take 20 or more shots in the Premier League this season — and there are many — Ings has the second-highest shot-to-goals ratio, behind Jamie Vardy.
It may well be Southampton’s relegation lifeline.
Ralph Hasenhuttl bought Che Adams in the summer because he was worried about Ings’ ability to stay fit across the entire length of a season after multiple serious injuries.
Staving off those injuries will surely be the deciding factor in what league position they eventually find themselves in come May.
Sheffield United’s away dreams continue
While multiple members of the Big Six continue to flounder, Sheffield United and Chris Wilder continue to make them all look foolish. This has been their year.
Against Brighton on Saturday, the Blades could have won by three or four goals.
They had two ruled out for VAR and David McGoldrick managed to miss an open goal after rounding the goalkeeper, but victory was assured by a set-piece goal and more defensive resilience.
Sheffield United now find themselves fifth in the Premier League at Christmas. That represents a stunning overachievement.
It is away from Bramall Lane that Wilder weaves his magic most. After four and a half months of the season, Sheffield United are still unbeaten on the road.
They have the same number of Premier League away points in 2019 as Tottenham, having only played their first match on August 10.