Ahead of his first FA Cup tie as a Manchester United manager, Solskjaer was at the threshold of making history. Only one United manager had won his first 5 games in charge - Sir Matt Busby and a win over Reading would put the Norwegian's name in the record books alongside the United Legend. Solskjaer, though, would have hardly been concerned with setting records, even though he had clearly stated that he wanted to win all games in charge.
The Norwegian named a totally changed side, as he gave several of his first-team members a well-deserved rest. However, the team he set up was not short of firepower. He opted for Romero in goal, with Dalot, Darmian, Jones and Young making up the back four. In the middle, he put Fred alongside Pereira and McTominay. Mata joined Sanchez and Lukaku as a front three with enough quality within them to see off a spirited Reading side.
United took time to break down a resolute opposition, but when Fred had slotted in the ball home in the first half, he was ruled offside, only for VAR to interfere. United were awarded a penalty by VAR instead, as Mata had been brought down. The Spaniard scored from the spot and gave United a deserved lead. Lukaku missed a couple of chances, but finally, doubled the score in the 4th minute of injury time as United went into the break with a 2-0 lead.
The home team did not improve much in the second half, as Solskjaer's men failed to build on their good start. The Norwegian brought on Chong in place of Mata and Fellaini in place of Fred, before Sanchez hobbled off to be replaced by Rashford. In the end, it was a stroll in the park for United, thanks to these 5 tactics from Solskjaer that ensured that he had now won all of his first five games in charge.
#5 Mata as the No. 10
Even though he started from the right, Mata drifted in all night and even switched places with Sanchez a couple of times. However, he was essentially the creative spark in the team, the man tasked with supplementing the forward players with effective balls in the absence of Paul Pogba. The Spaniard did just that and his nifty passing and ball control were a treat to watch.
With the ball at his feet, Mata was efficient as usual, switching play, playing quick one-twos and also taking up intelligent pockets of spaces near the box. It was from his late run into the box that United won a penalty which he converted to ease the tension at Old Trafford. He also took up deeper roles as required and freed up the full-backs to run at the opposition defences. Until his withdrawal, Mata was the one who provided United with the creative spark in the middle, a decision by Solskjaer that complimented his changed team
#4 Off the ball pressing
Solskjaer might like attractive attacking tactics, but he does not compromise on the essence of good football, which is built on pressing. As such, the Norwegian set his team to press and close down the opposition whenever they lost the ball. While the players at his disposal on the night were not all efficient in this regard, it was a tactics that kept United in the game even under intense opposition attacks.
Lukaku and Sanchez were very effective in the final third when without the ball. They both pressed and harrowed the defenders, giving them little time to build from the deep. In the middle, Fred, Pereira and McTominay continuously closed down the opposition, trying to force them into bad touches and wrong passes. Darmian regularly stepped up from the defense to continue the pressing and it was effective as Reading could not capitalize on their build-up play.
Solskjaer's decision to make his team press ensured that United ended a night with a win even after fielding a relatively weakened team.
#3 Pereira as the Deep Lying Playmaker
Andreas Pereira started in the Matic role for United on the night, but the youngster added a Brazilian flair to the center of the park. Pereira was efficient while dealing with the opposition counter and ensured that Reading never got hold of the midfield. But once he got the ball, his qualities were for all to see.
In the absence of Pogba and Herrera, his team was short of players who could see a pass from deep and that was why Solskjaer opted for Pereira to start as the deep lying playmaker. The Brazilian has a great understanding of the game and on the night, excelled in his role as he mixed up steel with style. He ensured that United were never short of options in the middle and he dropped down to help his defense as well as covered for the marauding full-backs.
The Brazilian watched the game from a deeper role and reacted as required. His manager will be quite pleased with him, because Solskjaer's decision to start with Pereira in that holding role worked quite well.
#2 Counter attacking Football
Solskjaer knew that Reading would be compact against United and as such, he set his team up to be fast and efficient. He relied on his speedy players to mount a counter on every opportunity and it was one of the main reasons why United won the game.
The speed of Sanchez and Lukaku on the counter was frightening, even though they lacked full fitness. Young and Dalot gave interesting options on every counter and the midfield trio, as well as Mata, had a lot of options while extending the game. While they were not as effective as they would have like to be, both of United's goals scored in the first half were carved out of fast counter-attacks.
Fred and McTominay also joined their forwards on every occasion, trying to build up the numbers on the counter. It is this preference of the Norwegian to play fast, fluid football that won United the game.
#1 Fluid front three
Solskjaer started with a completely different front three, with Lukaku, Sanchez and Mata starting together for the first time. It was also the first start for Sanchez and Lukaku under the Norwegian and the duo were eager to impress their manager. Even though none of them sparkled on the night, they were great together, and it was the fluidity of the front three that won the game in the end.
Lukaku and Sanchez looked a little rusty from the start, but grew into the game with time. They were both guilty of missing a few chances, but both gave the Reading defense a lot of headaches. Those two combined brilliantly as Sanchez set Lukaku up to score the second goal.
Sanchez and Mata switched places a few times, which Lukaku ran the channels continuously. Reading had a tough time tracking the runs and positions of the three as they continued to be fluid in the first half. Solskjaer brought in Chong and Rashford to spice things up in the second half, as United rode the firepower of their front three to win the game.