By Barney Stone, Deputy Online Sport Editor and third year History student
After sinking a spirited Reading side in the FA Cup, Manchester United’s Caretaker Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær secured his fifth straight victory - a new club record. As it stands, a top four finish at least is now firmly back in the club’s crosshairs.
With United ‘crawling on their hands and knees’ after a predictably humiliating 3-1 defeat at Anfield, Mourinho and his calamitous escapades this season were justifiably axed. In replacement, an unassuming club legend promptly grasped the managerial reigns at one of the world’s footballing juggernauts.
Instantaneously, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s affable demeanour has brought a feel-good factor back to Old Trafford; reminiscent of the Sir Alex Ferguson glory days, Solskjær’s appointment has promised a renewal of the club’s winning ethos, a return to the popular mantra ‘attack, attack, attack’, and faith in academy graduates. With Manchester United in his heart, the fans finally have someone who understands the magnitude of the job, and the honour it bestows.
In the Premier League, Manchester United’s record has been perfect. Four wins from four, scoring 14 goals and securing a clean sheet, the latter being arguably the greatest bonus given the perpetual leakiness of the defence this season. To underscore the potency of United’s attacking prowess under Solskjær, these 14 goals should be considered against Mourinho’s total after nineteen games – a measly 29. Although the four teams faced by Solskjær are all wallowing in the bottom half of the table, it remains important to remind critics that in the Premier League, anyone can beat anyone. Arsenal suffered a recent defeat against relegation strugglers Southampton, meanwhile Manchester City flopped at home to Crystal Palace.
The re-emerge of Paul Pogba has also precipitated both a huge sigh of relief and palpable sense of excitement; the Frenchman has been unplayable, notching up four goals and three assists – under Jose, it took 20 games to bag that many. Similarly, Solskjær has been full of praise for fellow-striker Marcus Rashford. Rashford, arguably the team’s only consistent performer throughout the season, has already snatched three goals and two assists, one of which came from some delightful trickery that bamboozled Bournemouth’s Nathan Aké. To supplement this, Romelu Lukaku has netted in each game he’s played, most recently against Reading. It will be exciting to see how competition for places in the attacking third will affect the team’s goalscoring productivity throughout the rest of the season.
Despite this upturn in form, Manchester United must remain realistic in assessing their objectives for the season. Undoubtably, a top four place remains a surmountable goal, as both Arsenal and Chelsea have revealed inconsistencies that can be pounced upon. Given a tough draw in the FA Cup away at Arsenal, and the forthcoming tie against PSG in the Champions League, Solskjær will have to utilise some more Fergie magic to advance.
This weekend’s fixture against a buoyant Spurs side at Wembley provides an ideal testing ground for Solskjær’s rejuvenated Manchester United. If they manage to snag the three points, the team’s growing momentum will inevitably put them in good stead to take on an increasingly unfortunate fixture list within the next few weeks: Arsenal (A), PSG (H), Liverpool (H).
As for the future of Ole Gunnar Solskjær, he has already won over the fans; choruses of "you are my Solskjær, my only Solskjær" have been ringing from stadia rafters since the first whistle at Cardiff. Yet, with football remaining a results driven business, it will be interesting to see what parameters the club have set for Solskjær to get the job permanently. Would Top 4 be sufficient, or perhaps a protracted run in both remaining cup competitions as well?
OLE OLE OLE OLE! 🕺@ManUtd 's caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admits he doesn't want to leave the club in May. 😆— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) January 3, 2019
Poor Molde. ☹️
More on the story here: https://t.co/5R4Wet9O8f pic.twitter.com/NTHtmfloxq
Nevertheless, it is obvious that the clouds hanging over Old Trafford this season have subsided and Manchester United’s renaissance is beginning to blossom. Following their successful trip to Newcastle, Solskjær asserted that United “can win every game” in which they play. Reminding his audience that at a club like this “you expect to win games”, previously dejected fans should certainly shrug off that sense of despair, and rekindle that arrogance and swagger that has brought unparalleled success in years gone by.
Featured Image - Eirik Refsdal / Flickr
Where do you predict Manchester United will finish this season? Let us know what you think!