Manchester United have won nine and drawn one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s opening 10 games in charge of the club. In the eight games leading up to Jose Mourinho’s dismissal, United had lost three, drawn three and won two.
While there’s no denying the fact Mourinho is a world-class manager, who has won trophies wherever he’s been (with United being the only exception when it comes to winning the league title), he lost the dressing room, failed to motivate the players and couldn’t bring the tactics required to get the results.
In Solskjaer’s first game in charge against Cardiff, just three days after he was appointed, we scored five goals in the league for the first time since the Sir Alex Ferguson era. Solskjaer hadn’t had time to work with the players for long but the approach to the game was so different to anything we’d seen under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or Mourinho. We attacked from the first to the final whistle and our players looked happy to be on the pitch, always looking for the forward ball.
However, there have been some pundits and ex-players who have been dismissive of Solskjaer’s incredible start, claiming more or less anyone could have lifted the spirits of this squad and deliver the results the Norwegian has.
While wins against Cardiff, Huddersfield or Bournemouth may have been easier to see Solskjaer deprived of credit, his recent victories surely should see Solskjaer given the praise he deserves.
When beating Spurs, United worked on ways to expose Mauricio Pochettino’s side’s weaknesses, and this paid off. Goalscorer Marcus Rashford discussed this after the game.
We did a lot of work in training on switching the play. It’s been a tough week in training but that was one of the things we’ve been working on. For it to come out in a game is good for us. We knew that against a team, as Tottenham defend, that the chances were going to come in between the full-backs and the centre-halves.
Ander Herrera, whose form has been so impressive under our new manager, echoed this.
The manager told us that at the beginning of the game it would be difficult to make short passes. He told us that it would be easier for us to switch the play and to look – almost without looking – to the other side of the pitch to switch the ball, because that is where we were going to find spaces. We scored like that, so thank you to the game plan as well.
Playing Jesse Lingard centrally, with Rashford and Anthony Martial either side, was not an approach anyone had expected, but it worked brilliantly.
Away to Arsenal, Solskjaer made several changes, with Lingard again playing centrally, but Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku playing either side. Again, this was an unexpected move, given the latter two had hardly played, but it worked brilliantly. Sanchez scored and Lukaku claimed two assists, being named man of the match, as Solksjaer’s tinkering paid off.
Lukaku discussed this after the game, acknowledging that Solskjaer had tapped in to the thinking that had seen the Belgian play that way for his international team.
It was the manager’s idea to play me there. I think he saw me play there a couple of times for Belgium and I did a job for the team in that position.
We said before the game we just need to try to dominate and play hard and then the result will come, and we did that. I think Arsenal tried to play their game but defensively we were really focused and offensively on the break we were really dangerous and that made a difference today in terms of that aspect. I’m really happy with the win.
Solskjaer also discussed this after the game, referencing how Lukaku had excelled in this position on occasion back in his Everton days.
Rom has played there for Belgium. He’s played there for Everton – against Arsenal, actually, a few years back – and he played in the World Cup against Brazil. So it’s a tactic we can use.
He held the ball up, ran the channel, brought other players in and a fantastic pass for Alexis’s goal, but then again it was not just like it was an open goal! It was a great finish by Alexis.
On Sunday afternoon, United moved up to fifth in the table after beating Leicester away from home. When you consider that this is a team that held Liverpool to a draw at Anfield earlier in the week, as well as beating Manchester City and Chelsea this season, it was a good result.
Anyone who had previously been under the impression that Solskjaer was telling the players to just go out and enjoy themselves, attack, and hope for the best, has hopefully learned the error of their ways.
Solskjaer has had a phenomenal start. Here’s hoping he can keep it up in the difficult month ahead.