Manchester United: Month of reckoning beckons as the resurgence continues
The leap of faith that Manchester United took to install a familiar yet unfancied name in the top seat, has landed them in a world of dreams. Finally in the top 4 and looking upwards instead of glancing behind their backs, the club is setting the pace in English football.
Securing his 8th league victory in 9th league matches at Fulham (10 out of 11 in all competitions); Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became the most successful manager in English football in terms of starting his managerial innings at a club. He has 25 points out of possible 27 with 8 wins. Amazingly, United only managed 7 wins under Jose before he was shown the exit door!
In bringing ‘Ole football’ back to Old Trafford, Solskjaer has set mischief in the race for the top 4 and sent the United fandom into ecstasy. The experiment is off to the most audacious of starts but the hurdles come thick and past at the stratospheric heights that the Norwegian finds himself.
Since he took over, United have garnered the most points (25), scored the most goals (28) and conceded the least amount of goals (7)
They have won their last 6 away games (5 in the Premier League), that is a first since the 2008-09 double-winning season.
THE ANATOMY OF RESURGENCE
The barren autumn of Moyes reign, wintry slumber on Van Gaal era and the pangs of loveless and bitter divorce of Mourinho marriage had turned the pastures of Manchester into the desert of despair and consternation.
For Ole Gunnar, the recipe for success has been as simple as winsome smiles, cloying words and bear hugs or as intricate as reinserting the etiquettes and norms of the Fergie era. Paul Pogba has hit 35 per cent of his league goals for Manchester United – eight of 22 – in the nine games, the Norwegian has managed.
A recall for Mike Phelan from down under, together with veteran midfielder Michael Carrick and talented tyros Kieran Mckenna and Emilio Alvarez, Solskjaer has an ensemble of managers immersed in the tradition of the club and attached to the fabric of its hallowed tapestry.
The return to an assertive, attacking and ambitious style of play is a far cry from the ponderous, pedestrian and painstaking displays under Mourinho. The fans have got their United back and it feels like spring is blossoming again at Carrington. The smiles, the buzz and the verve have kindled new hope for the institution as well its most loyal of pilgrims.
It is often derided as a tediously overused phrase but it does feel like the reawakening of a sleeping giant.
THE RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
‘Good players playing good football’. It has been the formula that Ole Gunnar seems to believe in. In terms of the cast of the blockbuster, here’s a look at the starring roles:
Marcus Rashford is already collecting milestones at Old Trafford in terms of appearances (150+) and goals, all at a tender age of 21. Drawing comparisons with United legends like Rooney and Ronaldo, he is fast becoming the spearhead of a United attack which is bursting with pace, panache and potency.
Lingard and Martial
The thundering trio at the top of the United attack is completed by two Red arrows in Lingard and Martial. Lingard is an academy graduate who has the game for big occasions like the Wembley 2015 or the Emirates 2018. From ‘Milly Rock’ to ‘Moonwalk’, Jesse is having a ball under the Norwegian enforcer. Apart from a sniff for goals, Lingard has also shown tactical versatility by adopting a false-9 position in the away matches, used against Tottenham and Arsenal.
Anthony Martial is smiling and it makes the Old Trafford a happier place to be. Giving his best impression of Thierry Henry-esque magic, he was at his best at Craven Cottage against Fulham. Mazy, mercurial and mesmerizing, Anthony was often at the receiving end of gnarly barbs under the previous manager. Six weeks after the special one departed, Martial has signed a contract extension and regained his mojo.
Pogba is having statistically his best season in terms of goals and assists including the trophy-laden spell at Juve. The fulcrum of the United juggernaut, Pogba has quickly become the leader that Jose never believed in. From the forgotten man to the Talisman!
After the Kafkaesque relegation to the gallows under Jose, the midfielder has come of age under Ole scoring 8 goals and 5 assists in nine matches. The shackles are off and Pogba is having a whirlwind romance with freedom.
Herrera and Matic
The midfield axle of Matic and Herrera cannot be praised enough for it not only provides a safety blanket for the United back line but it holds anchor for the United front players to launch off. Both Herrera and Matic have developed a midfield engine that provides the required thrust and sets the tempo for the team.
Lindelof and Shaw
Probably the only player to have bought himself praise under the Mourinho scourge, Shaw has earned stripes for his consistency this season. Shrugging off his injury ghosts of the past, he is fit, fast and rearing to stamp his authority in the fullback position which is becoming the most influential position in modern football’s tactical arrangement.
Receiving public endorsement from the Swedish icon Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Victor Lindelof is arguably the story of the season for United supporters. The defensive shambles at the rear end has been trenchantly discussed in conferences and post-match shows for the last six months but Lindelof has used that to carve out a position for him on the team sheet. Limiting the mistakes and flourishing with his passing abilities, the ice-cold Swede has brought semblance of solidity and imperturbability at the back for Ole Gunnar.
The Spaniard has had a spectacular spell at United and so it came as a shock when he had a miserable and blunder-riddled World Cup for Spain. His troubles filtered into the domestic campaign to start with but he is back to his World’s best form. He remains the first name on the team sheet and Ed Woodward must make him the top priority as far as contract negotiations are concerned.
THE MONTH OF RECKONING
February has a naughty tendency to derail seemingly successful seasons into whimpering anticlimaxes, ask Arsenal fans. With the two-legged tie against PSG in the Champions League, an FA cup 5th round tie away at Chelsea and a gladiatorial showdown with archrivals Liverpool at Old Trafford to traverse, the roadmap to success is paved with one pitfall after another for Ole Gunnar.
With great challenges come the greatest opportunities and as far as the audition goes, February will be a grand one for Ole. If he can come out of it with flying colors, United’s hierarchy would be saved from an ugly scrap with Mr Levy in the summer.
The incumbent manager is a student of the greatest ever manager, a bonafide fan favorite and legend, an incorruptible club servant and if he can deliver against the biggest teams in the biggest of the competitions for the biggest club, then he should feel entitled to a claim for the biggest job in the footballing galaxy.
Meanwhile, for the most important cog of the entire edifice, the fans, he is a throwback to a time when the impossible became achievable (Treble 1999). For now, as the Stretford End chants his name, it’s got to be Ole at the wheel!