Sen­sa­tional start for Sol­sk­jaer as United get back to ba­sics

In­terim man­ager sees his side crush Cardiff with an im­pres­sive dis­play Play­ers re­spond to new boss’s in­struc­tions to be pos­i­tive on the ball

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer - NICK MILLER at Cardiff City Sta­dium

Cardiff City 1 Ca­ma­rasa pen 38 Manch­ester Utd 5 Rash­ford 3, Her­rera 29, Mar­tial 41, Lin­gard 57(pen), 90

Satur­day evening in Cardiff did not re­ally feel like work for Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer.

The man who sealed Manch­ester United’s tre­ble in 1999 has been adored from afar since re­tir­ing in 2007 and leav­ing the club four years later, but his first game in his dream job was less a Pre­mier League fix­ture, more an oc­ca­sion for that ado­ra­tion to be dis­played. Which looked like good fun.

If most man­age­rial ap­point­ments are a re­ac­tion to their pre­de­ces­sor, this is surely the ul­ti­mate ex­am­ple.

United have brought in some­one for the rest of the sea­son who is truly happy to be there, who will re­vere the club and sub­mit to its needs rather than use it as a plat­form from which to air per­sonal griev­ances.

That might make the place a lit­tle more dig­ni­fied, but will this short-term boost trans­late into what United need?

Sol­sk­jaer has not been brought in only to make peo­ple feel fuzzy and nice. They did not re­place a bloke few liked with one every­body does only for sen­ti­men­tal rea­sons; United have the Cham­pi­ons League to qual­ify for, a busi­ness model to top up, a lit­tle face to save.

At the very least, United played more pos­i­tive, fear-free football than they did be­fore.

“Un­der any man­ager or any cir­cum­stances that’s how Man United are ex­pected to play,” said Luke Shaw af­ter the 5-1 win over Cardiff.

A bare min­i­mum that might have been, but a theme of the as­sorted com­ments from United play­ers showed this wasn’t just be­cause José Mour­inho had gone, but be­cause they were fol­low­ing their new man­ager’s in­struc­tions.

En­joy­ment

“He said we need to play more for­ward, to be more dan­ger­ous in at­tack, to run more, to com­pete with ev­ery­thing and that’s ex­actly what we did to­day,” said Ne­manja Matic.

“The lads played with a lot of en­ergy, en­joy­ment and ex­cite­ment,” said Jesse Lin­gard.

“He wants us to be pos­i­tive on the ball,” said Mar­cus Rash­ford.

If those in­struc­tions sound ba­sic, it’s be­cause they are. But per­haps ba­sic is what United need for the mo­ment. Some­thing else that was re­peated amid the post-match grin­ning was Sol­sk­jaer’s re­frain about the qual­ity of the play­ers he has.

“Football is easy if you’ve got good play­ers,” he told BT Sport, if noth­ing else a pleas­ant an­ti­dote to his pre­de­ces­sor, who was rarely shy of mak­ing his rel­a­tive dis­dain for this United squad clear.

Nat­u­rally, the most high-pro­file can­di­date for re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion is Paul Pogba. The French World Cup win­ner was in­volved in three of the goals, and af­ter­wards made a point of prais­ing Mour­inho.

“We won tro­phies with José and I want to thank him for that. He made me im­prove, as a per­son as well. I want to thank him for that. I’m sure that is the same of all the play­ers,” he said.

Was he claim­ing the moral high ground, killing Mour­inho with kind­ness, or have we got it all wrong and they were re­ally just re­spect­ful col­leagues? Who knows. But it did feel a lit­tle bit like those post-box­ing match mo­ments when the com­bat­ants praise each other’s skill, spirit and char­ac­ter hav­ing spent the weeks be­fore the fight con­vinc­ing ev­ery­one how much they hate each other.

Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties

If Sol­sk­jaer can get Pogba play­ing to his po­ten­tial, then a large part of the bat­tle will be won.

Will that be enough? United are eight points be­hind Chelsea in fourth place and Arse­nal in fifth. On the eve of the sea­son’s half­way stage that is a pretty big gap, but both of those sides have shown vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties.

Southamp­ton were in the rel­e­ga­tion zone when they beat Arse­nal last week­end and Claude Puel’s job was said to be at risk be­fore Le­ices­ter’s sur­prise win over Chelsea.

United were only head­ing one way un­der Mour­inho and while hir­ing Sol­sk­jaer, given his pre­vi­ous record in Eng­land, was a gam­ble, it seems to have been one worth tak­ing. Par­tic­u­larly if he can har­ness the pos­i­tiv­ity of Satur­day and take it into their forth­com­ing fix­tures, which look pretty friendly.

The next three league games are against Hud­der­s­field, Bournemouth and New­cas­tle, then there’s Read­ing in the FA Cup third round be­fore they face the con­sid­er­ably harder test of Tot­ten­ham at Wem­b­ley on Jan­uary 13th.

“There’s a very long way to go,” said Shaw. “We’re not too fo­cused on the other teams’ score­lines at the mo­ment.

“The main fo­cus is us and the next four or five games are very winnable. Of course we want the top four, we want to be play­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League next sea­son.” – Guardian

PHO­TO­GRAPH: STU FORSTER/GETTY

Manch­ester United’s in­terim man­ager Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer cel­e­brates with Fred and Paul Pogba af­ter Satur­day’s vic­tory at Cardiff.

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