Sunday’s win at Old Trafford against arch-rivals Manchester City was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s 50th game as a manager for his club. It also marked a 10-game unbeaten streak in all competitions, as well as being a third victory over Guardiola’s Manchester City this season. It’s finally looking like Solskjaer’s bold plan is starting to pay dividends.
Solskjaer took over from Mourinho in December 2018 and has since moved to a more offensive, aggressive style of play, while embarking on a clean up of the squad he inherited. His mix of graduating academy players (Williams, Mctominay, Tuanzebe, Rashford, Greenwood) and smart acquisitions (Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, James, Ighalo and Bruno Fernandes) have injected life in an otherwise flat ManUnited side.
The Norwegian has also been successful in reviving players like Pogba (before his long term injury), Fred (who is finally looking like the 57 million player United signed) and Nemanja Matic. Many other players (for example: Martial, Shaw) who were under-performing under Mourinho or at the start of Solskjaer’s reign are now enjoying life at Old Trafford and delivering the goods.
Ole has always said this season was about building a team that could challenge on all fronts next season. The current season has obviously been painful for United fans but now it finally looks like there is light at the end of tunnel. Bruno Fernandes’ acquisition was the catalyst Ole needed to speed up United’s revival.
I expect to see another refreshing of the squad in the upcoming summer. With three more intelligent transfer moves, Ole will have built the balanced squad he wants. Players like Lingard, Phil Jones, Rojo and Pereira, whose standards have been poor so far, are most likely on the way out. A striker, a midfielder and right winger will be on the shopping list.
Even if Paul Pogba leaves, United will still be in a good position. Pogba’s sale will help finance deals for players Ole wants, much like Lukaku’s sale did last summer. The resurrection of Fred, combined with the class of Mctominay and Matic’s fight for a new contract shows United only need one extra midfielder to complete that position. It would be interesting to see Pogba play in a much improved United side but United fans should also not be too worried if he decides to leave.
Solskjaer has often been maligned by fans and pundits alike for his inexperience but he has shut critics up recently. Three wins against Chelsea and City are tough for any team to achieve, let alone in one season. The 10-game unbeaten streak involve beating City twice, playing against Wolves, Chelsea and Everton – all really good teams. Even the weaker opposition, who usually trouble United the most, were brushed aside.
If Ole can finish the end of the season strongly and qualify for the Champions League, it would be a major boost for next season. Any trophy picked up while doing that (FA Cup, Europa League) would be an additional bonus.
The team that starts United’s season for the 2020/2021 EPL edition will surely be in a position to challenge on all fronts. Next year’s Premier League might be a three-horse race between City, United and Liverpool, with a youthful Chelsea side being the outsiders.
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