If there was ever a more needed win in his managerial career, Solskjaer got it today. Bruno to Ronaldo, Ronaldo to Cavani and Matic to Rashford gave United the three points. The first was a superb cross from Bruno that Ronaldo spectacularly volleyed past Lloris. Spurs were horrible but on the one spell that they looked threatening, more superb play from Ronaldo set up Cavani who calmly chipped into the net. Rashford wrapped it all up with something that is becoming very stereotypical of his game – running in behind and contorting his body slightly to wrap his right foot around the ball to put it into the keeper’s left hand corner. The train back to Manchester will be much happier than walking out of Old Trafford last week
Change was almost forced upon him. There was no way that after what transpired in front of the Old Trafford faithful last week, a continuation of that personnel and set up was impossible. It was less change than many would have wanted but it was significant. Three at the back, something that hasn’t been seen since the away victory in the Parc Des Princes in 19/20. Varane’s reintroduction into the team was significantly needed. The McFred combo continued and for the first time, Ronaldo and Cavani played from the off together.
Going from back to front, it was interesting to see how the defence set up both in and out of possession. Out of it, it was what you expected of a back three with defensive wing backs. The five strung across the back meant that United no longer suffered the issue of not being able to plug the half spaces and wide positions at the same time. The lack of quality that Spurs showed in those positions helped tremendously but it was the most unified Red Devils team defensively I’ve seen in a long while. In it, Lindelof pulled incredibly wide so that Wan Bissaka was able to push forward. In essence, it almost became a four whenever United were on it and credit to the former Crystal Palace player, he was everything that he is usually criticised for: calm in possession, aggressive and instinctive in attack and a real out ball for the team when he is quite often the trigger for the opponents.
Plenty have called for a three but with four at the back. Alas, those that called for it will have to settle for a three with a five behind it but what you would say is that the spaces in the middle third of the pitch seemed a lot easier to cover when they had a good basis to work off. Bruno Fernandes played on the right of the three while Fred played on the left of it with McTominay in the middle. It was a dogged approach, which you can expect of the three in any day, but with a lot less to do. McTominay was able to show the more progressive running that is a trademark of his game now. Fred descended into a bit of mess by the end of the game when he was very solid before but Fernandes was the one that looked more different. In being able to constantly face the game from the 8 position, he was in places that he liked more. The assist for the Ronaldo goal was magical and something that he produced vs Young Boys, this time with his instep. The composure for the second to not go for the audacious, his typical trait, and pass instead to Ronaldo helped continue possession in a time when United were being pinned back by the North London club. With two more important games to go, is this the formation to freedom for Solskjaer?
Experience the name of the game
This was the oldest XI that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has ever picked in the Premier League. The other two, the 1-0 loss in Newcastle away in 19/20 and the 2-1 win vs Watford in 18/19 polarised each other. They were both significant games, as pressure mounted on the Norwegian at Tyneside and that win being the first of Ole’s permanent career. It was telling that in the moment that Solskjaer’s position was the most precarious, he went away from what he built his initial dream, youth, on. Greenwood and Rashford gave way for Cavani and Varane. Even two of the three subs, in Matic and Lingard, were more elder statesman. Younger XIs are prone to inconsistency and those who were put out weekly were you g not just in age but also the highest level. You wonder what he will go with next week when you know Man City will be much better than the poor Spurs outfit that was faced today.