our semi-finals; zero finals.
In mitigation, United were far from awful in their Carabao Cup tie against rivals Man City – they were just found wanting at both ends of the pitch, and a team as talented as Pep Guardiola‘s was always going to take advantage.
Solskjaer led United to the final four of the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League in the 2019/20 season, and tasted defeat on each occasion.
A top-four finish and Champions League qualification was always the main aim, and success on that front seemed to provide an answer to those who questioned the squad’s mentality when the going got tough.
However, a Champions League group-stage exit once again raised suggestions that this United team is lacking the mettle to ride out the toughest challenges.
United’s League form has been excellent since their European exit, and the Red Devils are now level on points with Liverpool at the top and hold a game in hand over the champions.
Unfortunately for Solskjaer, a near-full strength United XI fell to a weakened City lineup shorn of the likes of Ederson, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, with two set-piece goals particularly tough for the United boss to swallow.
Bruno Fernandes was not at his effervescent best against City, and Roy Keane seemed to hint that players such as Eric Cantona, who led United to glory in the past, never go missing in games like these.
That is perhaps slightly reductive given Fernandes has played nearly every single minute over the festive period, but that in itself speaks of Solskjaer’s over-reliance on the Portuguese playmaker. When Fernandes is not on form, it can be difficult to see where the goals will come from.
The fact that Donny van de Beek – the man seemingly signed specifically to ease the burden on Fernandes – was given a couple of minutes at the end of the game was telling.
It would be harsh to lambast any team losing against a City side boasting the genius of Kevin de Bruyne, as Chelsea found out last weekend.
But history is littered with good teams who fell short at the semi-finals; great teams go all the way. City have won this competition for the last three years running, and will face a Tottenham side managed by Jose Mourinho – who has lifted the trophy four times, and was the last man to bring silverware to Old Trafford.
Solskjaer’s United rebuild is not yet complete, but a fourth semi-final defeat will be tough to swallow – for him and his players.
United will now turn their attentions to the FA Cup, with a home tie against Watford offering the immediate chance to bounce back in a competition away from the Premier League.
The Red Devils have shown enough promise in recent months to suggest they are on the right track with Solskjaer, but the next challenge the manager faces will be his most difficult yet: to turn a talented team into winners.
Even given their lack of silverware since Sir Alex Ferguson’s exit, there is only so long Manchester United will tolerate being bridesmaids as the likes of Guardiola and Mourinho prepare for yet another big day.