Has Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Solved The Manchester United Crisis?
Being an Arsenal supporter, it was rather amusing to watch the downfall of Jose Mourinho at Manchester United just before the turn of the New Year. My dislike for Jose Mourinho, because I find him an arrogant man, has been deeply rooted for a good few years, so to be honest I wasn't sad to see the back of him. Interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has since stepped in and that begs the question, has he solved the Man United crisis?
Manchester United's start to the 2018/19 season was their worst for twenty-six years and featured Mourinho's heaviest home defeat in history - a 3-0 demolition job at the hands of a clinical Tottenham Hotspur side. The calls for his departure were ringing around social media and the supposed replacement was former Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane, but this was just a pipe-dream. Form soon recovered with back-to-back away wins against Burnley and Watford, although judging by the scorelines of the Mourinho-era games, performances weren't convincing. Exit Mourinho, enter Solskjaer.
Since his appointment, Manchester United have won all of their games barring their latest draw against Burnley. The 5-1 thrashing of Cardiff City set a precedent for the rest of his tenure thus far and it's the first time that United had scored five goals since the the time of Sir Alex Ferguson. This came during Fergie's final game in-charge in May 2013 with a 5-5 draw with West Bromwich Albion.
It appears Solskjaer has got more out of star midfielder Paul Pogba in his limited time as manager, than Jose ever managed in over two years. Since the start of the 2018/19 season, Pogba has scored nine goals, which isn't bad for a midfielder. However, of those nine goals, six have come under the guidance of Solskjaer, including two braces against Huddersfield Town and Bournemouth. Moreover, Marcus Rashford has been given a new lease of life with a four-game consecutive scoring run. Alexis Sanchez, after a rather slow start to life at United, has started scoring with a clever, round-the-keeper effort against Arsenal in the FA Cup being his first goal for United since October. Despite him being plagued by injury, Sanchez may be starting to find his place in Solskjaer's side. During the Mourinho-era, Sanchez was deployed more defensively, as more of a wing-back than a winger, which does not suit his play style at all. During his time at Arsenal, Sanchez was used as an out-and-out winger which is where Solskjaer is looking to play him at the moment.
Solskjaer's tactical decisions are perhaps what's setting him apart from Mourinho. His training camp in Dubai recently allowed him to experiment with a new system and this has given the current United side a new lease of life. Extended training sessions in the heat allowed Solskjaer to stop and start at will to discuss the finer details of his tactical visions. This allowed players to fully understand the roles he expects of them and the direction he wishes to take the team in. He chooses to operate with a 4-4-2 diamond in some instances, playing Jesse Lingard as a 'false-nine' with Rashford and either Martial or Lukaku on the other side. Lukaku as a right winger is an intriguing choice and it's one that has befuddled reporters in the past. However, by playing Lukaku as more of an advanced, forward playmaker, it allows him to make full use of his strength and power. He's been instructed to stay wide and forward, much like Sanchez. This results in some quick, counter-attacking football that can punish the opposition. Solskjaer chooses to operate with more attacking full-backs to aid the attacking efforts, unlike the Mourinho-era defence that was pretty flat and boring. Players weren't fluid and stuck to their designated roles. The higher-pushing full backs provide the midfield with a couple more offensive options and utilising both the pace and technical ability of modern full-backs is a key part of the game these days. With this more attacking philosophy, United are looking to create more chances and in theory, more goals should come.
Attention given to younger talents, such as Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, has helped United too. Solskjaer, unlike Mourinho, seems to be able to 'connect' with them and get through to them. My personal footballing philosophy is to give the youth as much of a chance as possible and in both Lingard and Rashford, we have two of the best young talents in England today. Using established starlets is a key part of managing in the twenty-first century and the plaudits that England won at the 2018 World Cup under Gareth Southgate proved that.
Solskjaer isn't necessarily in line for the permanent position come the end of the season, which to Manchester United fans, is a shame. The times with Mourinho are obviously long-gone with stale and rather defensive football being replaced by a more intuitive and entertaining brand. There's been a tactical revelation at Manchester United since Solskjaer's arrival and he's on-course to become a saint at United if he carries on in the way he is. Therefore, has Ole Gunnar Solskjaer solved the Man United crisis? In short, and although it may be early days, I'd say he has.