Manchester United bring back the goals and the smiles in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's managerial debut

Aditya Devavrat 01:03 23/12/2018
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer began his reign as Manchester United‘s caretaker manager in style, overseeing a 5-1 win over former club Cardiff City.

The United legend watched on as a much-improved United side put Cardiff to the sword, with Jesse Lingard grabbing a brace and Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, and Ander Herrera scoring one apiece in an easy victory.

Here’s a look at the talking points from Saturday’s thumping win.

UNITED KEEP IT SIMPLE

This was the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in charge that United scored five times in a Premier League game. A sobering statistic made even more damning by this one: in that time, Manchester City have managed the feat on 33 occasions.

It’s hard to imagine Solskjaer has managed to implement any major tactical changes in just three days, so the only explanation for this performance is that the new manager has come in and said, “lads, just play”.

There was a freedom both of expression – seen in Paul Pogba‘s passing, some of which was pure showboating – and in movement, as players kept popping up in different positions in order to get on the ball.

Take, for example, United’s third goal, a wonderfully worked team move. Pogba, Martial, Rashford, and Lingard – United’s left-sided midfielder, left winger, central striker, and right winger, respectively – were all within ten yards of each other.

How often would that have happened under Jose Mourinho? The former manager’s style kept players rooted to a rigid structure, one that wouldn’t have allowed for the freedom of movement on offer on Saturday.

Sometimes, football can be a simple game. Solskjaer trusted his players to play to their abilities, and they delivered.

SOLSKJAER BRINGS POGBACK

Pogba knew all eyes were on him given what seemed to be his central role in Mourinho’s exit. His relationship with the former manager was always cited as a reason for both his own poor form and the team’s as a whole, and even an improvement here would have come with a caveat – that regardless of his relationship with his manager, Pogba should have always been giving his best effort once he was on the pitch.

Solskjaer, who has previously coached the Frenchman during his time in charge of United’s reserves team, instantly brought about an improved performance from the man who is arguably United’s best player when on top form.

Pogba’s two assists were simple but clever passes, but perhaps the key moment of Pogba’s performance came when he didn’t touch the ball at all.

When United were awarded a second-half penalty, he would no doubt have been one of the leading candidates to take it. But as Lingard, who has never taken a penalty before, insisted that he would step up to convert the opportunity that he himself had won, Pogba automatically agreed, in a situation where even better players have thrown strops.

It was a mature, responsible moment – exactly what everyone expects of Pogba.

UNITED A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

More than anything, what stood out about United was the positivity. It was there in the goal celebrations – a collection of knee slides that seemed a tribute to the new manager, who made that particular celebration iconic – it was there in the way United moved the ball, quickly and decisively, and it was there in the way the players celebrated with the fans at the end.

The fan base has not quite been united behind the players during the supposed spat between the team and Mourinho, who had built up a connection with the supporters even as the team’s form dipped. Some were insistent that no matter what the situation with the manager, the players should have been doing better.

But all was quickly forgiven. United’s travelling fans haven’t seen a five-goal display from their side in over five years, and that was enough to lift the mood. Pogba went over and gave his shirt to a supporter, plenty of the players joined him in celebrating with the fans – these were scenes not seen since last season’s 3-2 win over City.

At the centre of it all was Solsjkaer, who had a smile on his face for almost the entirety of the game. There will be sterner tests, but his approach should serve United well.

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