Solskjaer seems and feels more secure in Manchester United hotseatPublished on: April 21, 2020Author: Daniel Hubert
It was one of the low points of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and post-Alex Ferguson era at Manchester United. One year ago today, the Red Devils were thrashed 4-0 by Everton.
The performance was even worse than the result. Having enjoyed a fantastic start to his career as United manager, the honeymoon period was well and truly over for Solskjaer following this demolition.
“We have got to apologise to the fans because they were absolutely fantastic,” he told reporters in his post-match press conference.
“That performance is not good enough for a Manchester United team, from me to the players. We let the fans down. We let the club down.
“That performance is difficult to describe because it was so bad. They beat us on all the basics: long throw – put your head in, our corner, they counter-attack and score, their corner, they score.
“We were beaten on all the ingredients you need, added to the talent. There is no place you can hide on the pitch. It was 85 minutes before we got a strike on target which is not good enough.”
It has not been entirely smooth sailing in the 12 months since that defeat, but Solskjaer is in a far stronger position on 21 April 2020 than he was on 21 April 2019.
United failed to win any of their final four fixtures last season following that humbling at Goodison Park, and many expressed doubt over whether Solskjaer was the right man to lead the club forward.
Those doubts have not been entirely assuaged. Some United supporters have pushed for Mauricio Pochettino to be given the job at Old Trafford.
Easy to question Solskjaer coaching credentials
Solskjaer is a club idol for his exploits as a player – he scored 126 goals in a 11-year spell that yielded six Premier League titles and a Champions League winner’s medal.
It is hard to argue, however, with those who say that he was only appointed as Jose Mourinho’s successor because of his pre-existing popularity in the red half of Manchester.
Solskjaer won two titles at Molde, but the Norwegian league is hardly among Europe’s elite competitions.
His only previous employment as a Premier League manager came at Cardiff City, where he won three top-flight games and presided over the Bluebirds’ immediate relegation to the Championship.
Solskjaer plainly lacks the CV to match the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or Mourinho, although he is not alone in that regard.
Two of London’s top football clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea, are also being led by inexperienced head coaches in Mikel Arteta and Frank Lampard respectively.
Nevertheless, Solskjaer has reason for cautious optimism as he reflects on the 12 months since his nadir at Goodison Park.
Before the Premier League was put on hold, United were fifth in the standings. Only three points separate them from Chelsea in fourth place.
Their current position will bring with it a spot in the Champions League next term if neighbours Manchester City’s two-season ban from continental competition is upheld by UEFA.
Qualifying for the Champions League was United’s primary objective at the start of the campaign. There were times when that goal looked to be slipping away from them.
Solskjaer’s side dropped to 10th following a 1-0 loss to struggling Bournemouth in November. They were only one spot higher in the table at the start of December, when Aston Villa – another relegation-threatened side – held them to a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.
Bruno Fernandes buy plugging Pogba gap
Since the end of January, though, optimism has returned. United drew 0-0 at home to Wolves shortly after the closing of the transfer window, which brought with it the signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon.
The Portugal international got his Premier League career off to a flying start, scoring three goals and providing four assists in nine appearances in all competitions.
With Fernandes in the side, United beat Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge and Manchester City 2-0 at Old Trafford. They also thrashed Watford and earned a 1-1 draw with Everton at Goodison, the scene of last season’s low point.
All of a sudden, there are signs of a team coming together. With Fernandes in the side, United possess a great deal more creativity and invention.
Marcus Rashford has been injured since January, but was enjoying a superb season up to that point. Scott McTominay and Fred have surprised many with their displays in midfield this term.
Solskjaer’s summer signings Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire have all had excellent debut campaigns at United.
The future of Paul Pogba remains uncertain with the France midfielder seeming keen to seek pastures new this summer, but it is unclear whether Real Madrid and Juventus will renew their interest.
Pogba is not the most popular figure among elements of the United fanbase, but his presence in the team would undoubtedly improve it.
Indeed, Solskjaer deserves credit for keeping United in the Champions League race despite the fact that the injury-stricken Pogba has been restricted to five top-flight starts this season.
Evidence of improvement
“The desire, attitude, commitment, connection between fans and players pleased me most,” Solskjaer said after the 2-0 victory over Manchester City last month.
“With all the clean sheets we have been getting it’s impressive, we are getting better. At times we pressed them, pushed them back. We tried to be aggressive.
“We made them make mistakes and we are happy with the result. For me it shows we are on the right track and improving and we are Manchester United and looking to catch the teams in front of us. [But] this is one game.”
Pleasingly for Solskjaer, United’s improvement stretches back longer than 90 minutes. There is, of course, still a long way to go before the 20-time English champions are challenging at the top of the Premier League again.
Yet for the first time in his permanent tenure, Solskjaer looks to be doing more than treading water at Old Trafford. It is still early days but perhaps United are moving in the right direction after all.