On Wednesday evening, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became only the second Manchester United manager to win his first four games in charge when his side beat Newcastle 2-0. Sir Matt Busby is the only other manager in the club’s history to do the same.
When you consider that Solskjaer was taking over a group of players who were a massive 19 points behind the league leaders and had a goal difference of 0, his achievement is all the more impressive.
Four games in, United now have a goal difference of +11, with the new manager playing attacking football and giving opportunities to academy players. Members of the squad who didn’t show up for Jose Mourinho are now playing their socks off for Ole.
Paul Pogba has been dominating play again, while also contributing goals and assists. Marcus Rashford has kept his place in the starting line-up and is playing like the fearless teenager who first broke in to the team. Romelu Lukaku has come off the bench twice and scored on both occasions. Sanchez has played for just half an hour since returning from his lengthy injury and already has an assist. Against Newcastle, they even picked up a clean sheet, just their third of the season.
The atmosphere at Old Trafford and on the road is the best it’s been in ages with fans overjoyed to have a club legend in the dugout. The most popular chant at the moment starts with “Ole’s at the wheel, tell me how good does it feel?”
The answer is: it feels bloody brilliant.
However, it’s easy for fans to get swept away with the emotion of it all and start to think with their heart instead of their head. Already social media is awash with supporters claiming that Solskjaer should get the job on a permanent basis in the summer, instead of United going for a more established manager like Mauricio Pochettino.
Given the supporters have had little reason to cheer so far this season, it’s understandable that they would get carried away with what is taking place at the club right now, but a bit of perspective is needed.
All of their wins under Solskjaer have come against sides in the bottom half of the table.
United fans would argue it’s not just the fact they are winning these games, but how they are winning them that is important. Despite the fact Mourinho saw his team beaten by Derby, Brighton and West Ham this season, it is possible he would have collected maximum points against the sides Solskjaer has. But when you consider the best goal difference United managed while he was still at the club was just +2, it’s almost impossible to imagine he would have overseen as many goals as the new manager has.
Still, as good as these results and performances have been, the real test will be when United come up against top sides. They face Tottenham Hotspur next week, before taking on PSG and Liverpool the following month.
Solskjaer’s greatest strengths so far have been bringing back the enjoyment to the players and the fans, allowing the forwards to rely on instinct and creativity, while coaching the strikers on their finishing. Tactically though, he hasn’t really been tested and has still conceded goals against teams that have barely scored this season.
Outscoring poor opponents isn’t too challenging when you consider the talent that United have going forward but what will Solskjaer and Mike Phelan come up with to stop the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen?
For all of Mourinho’s drawbacks he was capable of getting results against top sides. United became the first team to beat Juventus this season, picked up six points against Arsenal last season, four against Liverpool, while also beating Chelsea and Manchester City.
United have one of the worst defensive records in the whole league. The fact they have scored five more goals than Chelsea but are six points behind them, and just five less than Liverpool but are 16 points worse off, is testament to how the leaky defence has cost the club this season.
Solskjaer’s hardly a novice, having overseen back-to-back title wins with Molde during his first two seasons as their manager, their first title wins in the club’s history. Getting the better of Rosenborg, who have 26 Norwegian titles to their name, is an achievement but it’s clearly not comparable with the task he would have ahead of him if he were to stay on as United manager next season.
However, United fans would be wise to not get too bogged down with thoughts of the future and instead focus on what they’re witnessing right now. It may well go pear-shaped before the end of the season and Solskjaer might be exposed as someone out of his depth, but for now United are playing the way they should and getting results on the pitch.
If they have learnt anything from the five years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, it’s that success and entertainment shouldn’t be taken for granted. Fans can appreciate the changes Solskjaer has made, hope that he can keep it up against better teams and enjoy taking pride in watching their team play again.