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Monday 18 February 2019

Ole's stats don't lie

United's rebirth under Solskjaer in stark contrast to figures during Jose's last days

The Manchester United squad is a happier unit under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
The Manchester United squad is a happier unit under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has brought a smile back to the faces of Manchester United’s players and fans following a dour run under Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho

He'd been on the pitch just 11 minutes when he pounced on a flick-on and stuck the ball in the Bayern Munich net to secure the Champions League trophy for Manchester United.

Long before that legendary intervention in 1999, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was regarded as a super-sub. A man the Red Devils could rely on to rescue a game.

Alex Ferguson had called Solskjaer "the best substitute in the world" and revealed that he sometimes felt guilty for not starting the Norwegian in matches.

"He really deserves better," said Fergie. "But the fact is he is better than anyone else at the club as a substitute. He can come on and not be disturbed by it."

Notably, Solskjaer spent his time on the bench analysing play. When he arrived on the pitch he had an awareness of how to make an impact.

Core

It's been easy to underestimate the former striker they called "the Baby Faced Assassin".

Behind the smiling, polite exterior, lies a core of professional steel.

Respecting his analytical approach and quiet determination, Ferguson appointed Solskjaer manager of United's reserves.

Yet when the Norwegian was announced as a caretaker manager at Old Trafford in December following the sacking of Jose Mourinho, it seemed like a stop-gap gamble by the club's executives.

But it took less than three minutes in his first game in charge for Solskjaer's team to score a goal.

Before half-time in that match away to Cardiff, United had score three.

At the final whistle the 1-5 scoreline didn't just signify a win. Manchester United supporters knew that this was the first time since the Ferguson era that they'd seen their team score five goals in a league match.

As one pundit observed of the exhilarating display, United played "like eleven players who'd been let out of jail".

Solskjaer had laid down a marker.

"I knew that if we could get the playing style right, we would get enough points to be in with a shout of the top four towards the end of the season," Solskjaer said.

Ten games on, we can measure the difference he's made to this Manchester United team.

Under the interim boss, United have score 25 goals, winning nine and drawing one across Premier League and FA Cup.

By comparison, Jose Mourinho's last 10 matches, in the Premier League and the Champions League, had resulted in just 16 goals and a record of 4 wins, 3 draws and 3 losses.

Statistics aside, Solskjaer has transformed the atmosphere at the club.

Players who didn't know where they stood with Mourinho from week to week have begun to display the form it's known they're capable of. Confidence is surging through the squad and players who were publicly berated or humiliated by Mourinho are turning in match-winning performances.

Swagger

The team is playing with a verve and swagger seldom seen under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or Mourinho.

With one of Ferguson's trusted lieutenants, Mike Phelan, and club stalwart Michael Carrick, by his side, Solskjaer has revived an attacking ethos that was first enshrined by Matt Busby.

The case of Marcus Rashford is indicative of the difference between the Mourinho and Solskjaer managerial styles.

Mourinho blew hot and cold on Rashford (21), preferring to play Romelu Lukaku in a central position.

Rashford scored four goals in 20 appearances this season under Mourinho. Under Solskjaer, he's scored six.

Players from Jesse Lingard to Ander Herrera enthuse about Solskjaer's tactics.

"Everyone is allowed to attack," Herrera has said. "When we're playing, everything is possible. Even in tough moments, when we're defending, we have the feeling we can hurt the opponent."

With an away trip to Fulham tomorrow followed by a visit to Old Trafford by Paris Saint Germain on Tuesday, Solskjaer's philosophy of football will continue to be tested.

But as players, supporters and pundits will testify, Manchester United are playing like a team re-born.

As evidenced by the performances of Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial and others, players whose form dipped drastically under Mourinho, Solskjaer's self-belief is rubbing off on his squad. Dismissing his disappointing record as manager of Cardiff, he declares: "I didn't say I wasn't ready for the Premier League. I was more prepared for this one. Manchester United suits me."

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