Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made the bizarre claim that red banners at Old Trafford have hampered his side’s home form this season and has had the bottom tier ones in the stands changed to black.
United go into their Europa League quarter-final second leg against Granada on Thursday with a 2-0 lead, having won the first leg in Andalusia last week.
That was United’s third win from three away from home in the Europa League, but they are yet to taste victory from two home matches in the competition this season.
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In the Premier League, United’s current 23-game unbeaten run away from home is bettered only by a 27-game run from Arsenal between April 2003 and September 2004, with all four of their league defeats coming at Old Trafford this campaign. And Solskajer has acted, in an unusual manner.
“If you look at all the banners around the edge they are not red anymore,” Solskjaer said.
“We have looked into this, and there shouldn’t be any reason [why home form is worse] but some of the players have mentioned that, when making that split-second decision, to look to see if your team-mate is there or not, and the red shirt, on a red background, with red seats – we have of course tried to change that, along with the anti-racism campaign, that was important that wasn’t red too.
“When you have a 4-0 win away against Sociedad you don’t have to win at home, and the first game against Milan, we conceded in the last minute. I still think we have played some good football at home.
“We started off badly with three defeats, Palace, Tottenham and Arsenal early on, but we have improved.”
Gary Neville joked that Solskjaer’s admission evoked memories of United’s trip to Southampton in April 1996, when Sir Alex Ferguson famously ordered his side to change their grey kit halfway through a 3-1 defeat because it was felt the players could not pick each other out.
United had won 11 of their previous 12 games to overhaul Newcastle United at the top of the Premier League table but goals from Ken Monkou, Neil Shipperley and Matt Le Tissier had put the hosts into a commanding lead.
Neville lifted the lid on the bizarre incident during lockdown last year, telling The Football Show: “It’s a bit unique, but there was a bit of science behind it. Sir Alex had employed, a couple of years before, Professor Gail Stephenson from Liverpool University, and we had her as our ‘eye coach’.
“Sir Alex had this in his head before the game that this kit was a problem because he’d been told by Gail. We had a full set of kit ready to put on at half-time. You don’t take another kit to a game unless you’re thinking there’s a problem with it. He had this in his head…
“It’s going to sound really daft but one of the great theories around football that was presented at United at the time was that match sharpness was nothing to do with your physical fitness. It was to do with your eye muscles being able to react to things happening on the pitch.
“There were no conversations… it was ‘get the kits off’ from the kitman Albert [Morgan]. We lost in the kit previously [at Arsenal and Liverpool]. Sir Alex did have his superstitions and his beliefs, but I genuinely think he felt there was a problem with this kit and the Southampton game was the final straw!”
United would still go on to win the Premier League by four points, but four of their six defeats came in the infamous grey strip.
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