A home win against a side that’s already tasted six Premier League losses this season hardly means your manager is a tactical genius and the team is destined for unbridled glory. However, maybe fans could be forgiven for feeling a win over our derby rivals, the current reigning champions, our third over them in four months AND first at home in the Premier League against them in five years could be more important than just three more points.
When Scott McTominay sent 90% of Manchester into ecstasy with his last-minute game settler on Sunday, it felt somewhat more seminal than a team fighting for fourth spot beating a team that’s destined to finish second.
Like him or seriously doubt him, there’s no denying that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has restored on ingredient that’s been missing from Manchester United football club for the best part of seven years- pride. Yes we’ve won derbies since Sir Alex retired, we’ve won trophies and seen youngsters come through the ranks, but on the whole it’s often been difficult to truly love what we’re seeing on the pitch and have an Ian Brown-esque swagger about it.
Since Sir Alex retired, trophy wins have often come at the expense at having to watch utter dross during a league campaign. The only times the Reds have made the top four apart from a golden spell during ‘squeaky bum time’ it was a relatively frustrating campaign and our second-place finish under Jose Mourinho was one of the most underwhelming in the history of association football.
After seeing such riches under Ferguson we’ve been fed on a diet of brief highs and far too frequent lows, a trait which could almost define the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer managerial era, especially since the word ‘caretaker’ was scrubbed from his parking space.
In many ways the man who broke Sami Kaffour’s heart into a million little pieces on the Camp Nou pitch, has suffered from his early tenure success. A team that had been ‘patchy’ at best under Jose and dreadful at worst, was suddenly fixed because Ole had masterminded victories over likes of Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal and achieved the unthinkable over some team in Paris.
We quickly forgot earlier in the season we’d been tore apart by Spurs, been second best to a bang average Brighton team and put in the worst Anfield performance since Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea.
Ole was at the wheel and it felt good, unfortunately the bus was heading over the edge of a cliff and no amount of match winning goals twenty years ago were going to stop a section of the fanbase turning against the manager, especially after some of the unforgivable dross being served up as the season ended with a whimper.
This season has seen a continuation of Ole’s first five months played out on a smaller shorter cycle with emphatic wins (4-0 over Chelsea, beating Spurs and City in a week) quickly followed by demoralising draws then deflating losses. A season where we’ve beaten City and Chelsea six times should not also have seen the Reds lose to Bournemouth, Burnley, Palace, Newcastle, West Ham and Watford – not to mention needing penalties to get past the mighty Rochdale. Careers have ended for far less embarrassing results and there’s been times when those of us who’ve backed Ole have been running out of ways to defend what is often indefensible.
Lately though there’s been a real progress, since the aforementioned loss to a Burnley side we somehow made look like the 1970 Brazil team, United have begun to look a much more solid outfit.
Eight clean sheets in ten games, an unbeaten run which has also see the Reds pick up eight wins, shows things are beginning to click under Ole and unlike his caretaker manager days there seems to be a long-term strategy in place.
I don’t need to regurgitate the many articles, comments and posts about Ole ‘getting rid of the deadwood’ so won’t bother, what’s comforting from an actual performing on the pitch and winning games, point of view is that the ‘deadwood’ is already being replaced.
Brandon Williams is a much better option at left back than Ashley Young, Odion Ighalo offers more than Alexis Sanchez did in terms of actually being useful, his desire making up for his lack of the Chilean’s talent. Even Mason Greenwood who some felt was too young to fill the void left by Romelu Lukaku’s trip to United’s reserves, who are now based in Milan, has more than stepped up and will naturally only get better with age.
If Greenwood manages four goals before the end of the season, far from impossible for a lad of his talents, then he’ll equal Lukaku’s tally from his final campaign with the Reds – not bad for a player eight years younger and around £80 million cheaper.
Ole’s signings have by-and-large been a success, Wan-Bissaka finding time in his schedule of pocketing Raheem Sterling once a month, to also do the same to practically any winger he faces. Dan James has had his issues with form, but in all honesty still looks a bargain at £15 million had in his defence has played far more games than he should have this season, while Harry Maguire is just about beginning to look like a United captain.
Let’s not kid ourselves though, the signing of Bruno Fernandes has elevated this United team beyond all expectations and his recent player of the month award is about as surprising as an Ederson howler.
Ole has this team playing well, challenging for trophies and the top four and has restored some much needed likability to the United side, with the aloof, arrogance of some players being replaced with the starry eyed passion of youngsters. Even the new signings seem to love every minute of being a Red, that love being reciprocated towards them from the fans. It’s not just pride Ole has restored to our club, it’s an affinity with the supporters that’s long been missing and has somehow cut-through much of the hatred rightfully aimed at the owners.
It’s not all been perfect from Ole and his coaching staff and we’ve been through enough false dawns to fill a French and Saunders tribute act convention, but as the Red masses swagger around Manchester singing McTominay songs, it’s not hard to feel something is beginning to click for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United.