Before last week, United had not won back-to-back Premier League games in nine months. Forward a week and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has ended this disconcerting statistic with 2-1 wins over the coveted coaches Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
With the recent sackings of Mauricio Pochettino, Unai Emery, Quique Sanchez Flores and Marco Silva, there has been increasing pressure on Solskjaer’s future at the club. This pressure has stemmed from United’s defeats to the likes of Crystal Palace, Newcastle, and Bournemouth, leaving United with just 4 wins from 14 prior to this week.
Whilst the pressure may have mounted from the media, there is a general consensus inside Old Trafford that the club are in the process of a rebuild. Solskjaer is giving United a cultural reboot, aligning his principles closely to the unique traditions that were shared by Sir Alex Ferguson, who was pictured with a beaming smile in yesterday’s derby win. United are moving in the right direction – the trajectory is upwards – despite setbacks against the ‘lesser’ teams.
It was almost a year ago when Solskjaer was appointed as caretaker manager, where he enabled his players freedom and creativity, in an extended honeymoon period in which he won 10 of his opening 11 games. Solskjaer is building a team that is fitter, stronger, and meaner, with electric pace on the counter-attack. Solskjaer himself prefers to call it ‘attacking, flowing football’:
I have seen the improvement since I came. We have had to reshape the squad, change the culture, change the way we want to play. You can call it counter-attacking but that sounds negative. For me it is quick, attacking, flowing football with the right intent. There is no intention to take it back to the keeper. We have players with pace, quality and skill. I wouldn’t want James, Lingard, Martial and Rashford running at me.
Another core value is youth being at the heartbeat of the team: Solskjaer believes strongly in this ideal. Young, emerging talents like Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood provide the energy, mobility and no-fear mentality which Solskjaer demands. Having previously managed United’s reserve team between 2008-2011, he understands the standards required, and believes that they are good enough. Injuries caused Solskjaer’s predecessors Louis Van Gaal and Mourinho to bring youth into the fold, Solskjaer genuinely believes in them.
With the festive period upcoming, it remains to be seen whether United are turning a corner under Solskjaer. One thing for certain is that Solskjaer is creating a team that is strongly rooted in United’s traditions and values, and that alone will give United fans the satisfaction which has been scarce in a somewhat apocalyptic post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.