Why can't Man United win away from Old Trafford? Why can't they score? Questions of Solskjaer mounting
DEN HAAG, Netherlands -- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said before Manchester United's Europa League tie with AZ Alkmaar that he hoped to be asked "different" questions after the game, but instead they are mounting.
Why can't his team win away from home? Why do they not score goals? Are they good enough to ease the pressure and win at Newcastle on Sunday? Answers on a postcard.
In hindsight, the 0-0 draw against AZ and another uninspiring, insipid performance should have been entirely predictable.
United have not won away from home in any competition since March and have scored just seven goals in their past nine games. Why should it be a surprise, then, that they did not win here in the Netherlands and could not score? They did not even manage a shot on target.
Louis van Gaal, watching from the stands, played as big a part in the game as Alkmaar goalkeeper Marco Bizot.
Solskjaer, though, had a different view.
"It's a good point away from home against difficult opponents on a difficult surface," said the United manager afterward. "They beat Feyenoord 3-0 away from home, we made many changes and I'm very pleased. It should have been a win. I'm fed up of talking about penalties we should have had."
He is right that Stijn Wuytens can count himself fortunate he was not penalised for clipping substitute Marcus Rashford 10 minutes from time, but there is no getting away from the fact that United did not create enough chances.
With Rashford on the bench, Solskjaer's search for goals led him to pick winger Daniel James at centre-forward with centre-forward Mason Greenwood on the right wing. It was an experiment that lasted just 20 minutes before the pair switched and created United's first chance.
James' cross from the byline found Greenwood, whose shot was blocked by former Aston Villa defender Ron Vlaar. Aside from Angel Gomes getting in a tangle at the back post from Diogo Dalot's cross, that was as close as United got during a forgettable first 45 minutes.
Only the linesman's flag ruling out Myron Boadu's header prevented Solskjaer from having to deliver an even more awkward team talk.
While United's players looked short of the confidence required to deal with the hard, uncomfortable plastic pitch at ADO Den Haag Stadium, Alkmaar's 23-year-old Moroccan winger Oussama Idrissi showed what was possible with a bit of self-belief. He tormented Dalot and Fred in the first half, and would have scored but for a good low save from David De Gea to turn a drilled shot from 20 yards around the post. Idrissi's skill and invention only served to highlight that United's players were struggling to muster much of either.
Instead there was fear and frustration. Juan Mata let out a scream at another misplaced pass. De Gea flapped his arms after lofting the ball over the head of 19-year-old Brandon Williams, making his full debut, and out for a throw in.
The second half was more of the same.
De Gea made saves from Owen Wijndal and Idrissi. Williams and Fred survived penalty appeals. Fred passed a simple ball into the advertising boards. Rashford, on as a second-half substitute, blasted a free kick into the stands before his strong penalty claim was turned down. The wait for a shot on target went on. And on. And on.
The 950 travelling fans amused themselves with songs about players they have seen score goals. First it was Ruud van Nistelrooy and then Eric Cantona. What Solskjaer would give for either in his team at St James' Park.
The focus now turns to Newcastle.
This result should not stop United from reaching the knockout rounds of the Europa League, and it will be forgotten quickly if Steve Bruce's side are brushed aside. Newcastle are 19th in the table after just one win all season and head into the game on the back of a humiliating 5-0 defeat to Leicester.
It is either the perfect game for United to find some kind of form or a disaster waiting to happen. Another miserable afternoon on Tyneside this weekend would darken the mood around Old Trafford significantly.
If United are to beat Newcastle, it is likely they will have to do it without Jesse Lingard. Dropped from the England squad in the afternoon, his day got even worse when he was forced off with a hamstring injury in the final stages.
Anthony Martial is still recovering from a thigh injury. Rashford, without a goal from open play since the opening day of the season, will lead the line.
"Today was down to the decision of the ref, we could be sat here smiling," said Solskjaer.
It's been a long time since Solskjaer has smiled after an away fixture -- not since Paris 10 games ago, in March. That will need to change at Newcastle or there will be more awkward questions to answer.