Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has inspired Man Utd to a remarkable upturn in results and performance levels since replacing Jose Mourinho in the dugout. The popular caretaker manager has presided over 10 wins in 12 games and watched his beloved club surge up the Premier League table. The air of doom and gloom has lifted around Old Trafford and his stars are playing with smiles on their faces once more. Here are the five most notable improvements the Norwegian has made to this team:
A commitment to attacking football
Man Utd were defined by a commitment to attacking, expansive, ambitious football under Sir Alex Ferguson and it proved to be a highly successful formula. United racked up all manner of trophies and delighted fans with some scintillating football along the way. That was totally lost under the conservative Mourinho. It was to be expected from a manager that invented parking the bus, and some fans could just about stomach dreary football while results were going their way and trophies were being added to the cabinet, but this season they were in abysmal form too and the Portuguese understandably bit the bullet. The first thing Solskjaer did was encourage his players to push forward and take risks on the ball, and he has reaped the rewards of that decision. Ferguson demanded pace, power, penetration and unpredictability from his forwards, Solskjaer included, and the caretaker manager has reinstalled that philosophy to devastating effect.
Unleashing Paul Pogba
Pogba was undoubtedly the biggest casualty of Mourinho’s conservative approach as he was forced to play with the shackles on. Solskjaer gave him free rein to express himself on the pitch and the results have been remarkable. Finally, he looks like a player who can justify his £85 million price tag, having banged in nine goals in 12 games since Mourinho left the club. He has benefited from Solskjaer’s decision to play a settled midfield three, with Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera doing most of the dirty work and allowing Pogba to charge up the pitch and wreak havoc.
Giving Marcus Rashford a chance
Romelu Lukaku’s alarming dip in form was one of the reasons behind Man Utd’s run of poor results in the first half of the season. Fans were crying out for Rashford to become the first-choice striker at the club, but Mourinho continued to use the wunderkind sparingly. That all changed when Solskjaer took over. He benched Lukaku and built his attack around Rashford, who provides pace, power, penetration and unpredictability in abundance. It appears that the first-choice frontline under Solskjaer is Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard, and that looks extremely potent – full of youth, pace, energy and vitality, with Pogba adding further flair and athleticism to proceedings when he gets forward and supports them. It is notable that the only defeat in Solskjaer’s 12-game reign came after Martial and Lingard were forced off with injuries against PSG in the Champions League. But they bounced back with a superb win over Chelsea in the FA Cup, and Rashford’s pace and desire to play on the shoulder of the last man caused plenty of problems for the Blues and Man United are now second favourites, behind neighbours Man City to win the FA Cup at Sporting Index, where you will find thousands of sports spread betting markets.
Giving the full-backs a licence to push forward
Mourinho inexplicably singled out Luke Shaw for horrendous treatment during his time at the helm and it was painful to watch. Solskjaer recognises Shaw’s raw talent and he has allowed the young Englishman to nail down the left-back role, with Ashley Young now playing at right-back. Those two have been given plenty of scope to get forward and join in the attacks, providing Man Utd with a lot more width and making them a lot more dangerous going forwards. Shaw in particular is rejuvenated, delivering more crosses, making more runs, linking up better with forwards and edging higher up the pitch. He is still just 23 years of age and he could have a very bright future ahead of him if he continues to develop under Solskjaer.
Winning over the fans
Solskjaer has been a breath of fresh air at the club and the atmosphere inside Old Trafford is electric once more. During his time as a Man Utd player, this was an intimidating stadium to visit, but that aura disappeared amid the humdrum football that defined not only Mourinho’s reign but also those of Louis van Gaal and David Moyes. Now the place is rocking once more as the fans actually have something to cheer: exciting, risk-taking football played on the front foot. This newfound enthusiasm has rubbed off on the players and the likes of Pogba, Rashford and Shaw have never played so well in a Man Utd shirt. Solskjaer was an extremely popular player and he seems like a really nice guy, so he was always going to be warmly received on the terraces. But nobody expected the upturn in form to be quite so dramatic and the supporters feel like they have their Man Utd back. We should not forget the role that Mike Phelan has played in all this, but Solskjaer is the new figurehead of the club and the clamour for him to be given the job on a permanent basis is growing each week.