Manchester United appear to have turned the tide under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. ‘Ole’s at the wheel, tell me how good does it feel?’ – the well-known chant sung to the tune of ‘Waterfall’ by iconic Manchester band The Stone Roses – has been used both sincerely and cynically by fans and critics alike during the Norwegian’s topsy-turvy tenure at Old Trafford. Now though, things appear to be on the up.
Manchester United Making Progress Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Solskjaer Aiming to Bring Back the Good Times to Manchester United
Challenged to bring the good times back to the red half of Manchester, the man affectionately known as the baby-faced assassin by the United faithful got off to a lightning start in his caretaker stint at the helm – losing just once in 13 interim games in charge before signing a three-year contract in March 2019 to take the job on a permanent basis.
Arguably the biggest high of Solskjaer’s interim tenure came at the Parc des Princes, as United became the first side in Champions League history to win a two-legged knockout tie after losing the first leg by at least two goals – defeating Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 and sending the Reds through to the quarter-finals.
Solskjaer’s permanent appointment came just over three weeks after that memorable night in the French capital, and what followed was an alarming slump in form. The side won just two of their final eight Premier League games of the season, leaving them finishing sixth in the table and five points adrift of Tottenham Hotspur in the top four.
There was more disappointment in Europe too, as the gulf between United and the continent’s elite was clear to see when Barcelona secured a comfortable 4-0 aggregate victory over two legs in the quarter-finals.
Not a Quick Fix
It was obvious there would be no quick fix to make United one of the main powerhouses of English football once again, and the 32-point gap between themselves and champions Manchester City showed the true scale of the task facing Solskjaer.
Onlookers saw the 2019 summer transfer window as a crucial period to right the wrongs of some woeful overspending on some underwhelming signings in previous years, and the arrivals of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka were welcome additions to plug what had become a very leaky defence.
Allowing club captain Ashley Young go to Inter Milan was a big call, while Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez were two big names that never really hit the ground running at Old Trafford and followed Young to the San Siro.
But United struggled to gain any sort of consistency in the first half of the 2019/20 campaign and faced a constant battle to break into the top four. The much-heralded arrival of Bruno Fernandes was seen as a turning point in January 2020; eight goals and seven assists in 14 appearances that season spoke for itself and United made a surge towards third place.
Better Recruitment at Old Trafford
More shrewd recruitment followed last summer, as Alex Telles arrived from FC Porto to add competition in the full-back berths, Edinson Cavani came to add fresh impetus upfront, while Donny van de Beek looked to be the man to give United another creative option in midfield.
The Dutchman’s stuttering progress at Old Trafford to date is one of the latest conundrums facing Solskjaer, but it has hard to blame either the player or coach in this unique scenario.
In Scott McTominay, Fred, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba, Solskjaer already has a plethora of midfield options. The combination of McTominay and Fred in the two holding positions is reaping dividends, with both players working well to break up opposition attacks and feed the likes of Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford at the attacking end of the pitch.
McTominay’s two-goal salvo in the 6-2 hammering of Leeds United at Old Trafford showed how he is maturing as a player and thriving under the club’s ingrained policy to give youth a chance to succeed.
Mason Greenwood is another player who has excelled after coming out of the academy. He still has some way to go to beat last season’s tally of ten Premier League goals with only a solitary strike so far this campaign, but possesses the talent to be part of United’s frontline for many years to come.
Manchester United Full-Back Like Shaw Reinvigorated Under Solskjaer
Luke Shaw also appears to be reinvigorated under Solskjaer’s tutelage. Constantly picked out as a scapegoat during Jose Mourinho’s tenure, the former Southampton starlet is now showing the form that will make England manager Gareth Southgate sit up and take notice following the 25-year-old’s superb display against Liverpool on Sunday.
But many United fans are not getting carried away and know this is a team still some way off from the great Sir Alex Ferguson sides of the past, and there are still questions regarding their defensive frailties and having the confidence to recapture their traditional swashbuckling style in the very biggest games.
Although the fact United are now being mentioned as title challengers in the same breath as Liverpool and Man City, give fans hope that Ole may be steering the club down the right road after all.