Ole Gunnar Solskjaer beamed from ear to ear after enjoying a dream start to life back at Manchester United – and the caretaker manager warned the best is yet to come after hitting five past former club Cardiff.
Jose Mourinho paid for United’s lack of style, substance and togetherness, with his Old Trafford reign brought to an abrupt end as the club turned to one of their treble-winning heroes for the rest of the season.
Solskjaer took charge for the first time on Saturday evening and not only got off to a winning start but oversaw United’s first five-goal haul in a Premier League match since Sir Alex Ferguson’s last game in May 2013.
Jesse Lingard’s second-half brace complemented earlier efforts from Marcus Rashford, Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial as United won 5-1, with Victor Camarasa’s penalty a mere consolation for Cardiff.
Asked if there were any positives, Solskjaer laughed and said: “There’s quite a few!
“The attitude and application of the boys when you go out there and see them, the attitude has been fantastic, the dressing room, the way they approached this game. It’s been a difficult week for everyone and to get the focus and perform as well as they did impress.”
Solskjaer praised his team from front to back in the Welsh capital and playfully pointed out that this was returning coach Mike Phelan’s first match in the dugout since United netted five in the league 2,043 days earlier.
The team certainly had a Ferguson era swagger about them, with Paul Pogba – one of four changes to the Liverpool loss – impressing behind the visitors’ rapid attacking trio.
“I’m pleased with all of them – every single one of them – but of course it’s a threat,” Solskjaer said.
“When you’ve got Martial and Jesse Lingard down either side, Rashford up top with Paul supporting them, it’s exhilarating to watch and as long as we keep that standard up we’ll keep up picking points.”
Solskjaer is excited to see what serious time on the training pitch brings and is hopeful about United’s chances of clawing back the gap to the Champions League spots. “Well, we’ll take one game at a time but we’re eight points behind and we’ve caught up teams before at this club,” he said.
“Now, though, we’ve got to catch up a couple, but our job is to take one game at a time. Don’t look too far ahead but we always play well in second half of the season. Man United teams always do.”
Solskjaer’s attention now turns to Huddersfield’s visit to Old Trafford on Boxing Day, when Cardiff travel to Crystal Palace on the back of a loss that manager Neil Warnock found hard to argue with.
“The circumstances probably weren’t the right ones (for us), but we’ve had that before with Southampton and Leicester,” he said. “Probably (Mauricio) Pochettino will get the (United) job before we play Tottenham in the next home match. “It has been one of those things, but you can’t blame that.
“I thought we started the game quite well, if I am honest, and then out of nothing I thought it was an iffy free-kick and then it is a Sunday League goal. That put us on the back foot. Concede a second one like we did and I did feel we had a good chance of getting a result, even at half-time at 3-1 if we could get the next goal. The penalty really killed us again. It’s not a penalty but I can’t blame the ref today for 5-1.”
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.
Manchester United against Cardiff:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 22, 2018
🔴 Most possession in a PL game this season
🔴 Highest passing accuracy in a PL game this season
🔴 Most goals in a PL game this season
Not a bad start to managerial life at United. 😏 pic.twitter.com/tAe6FkYEuw
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.
Pogba completed more final third passes (16) in the first half vs. Cardiff City than any other player on the pitch including an assist.— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) December 22, 2018
Pogback. 💥💥💥 pic.twitter.com/9iPax5I9aE
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.
Solskjaer applauding the fans and punching the air. Pogba gives his shirt to a fan. Positivity has well and truly returned to United. Remarkable #mufc managerial debut.— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) December 22, 2018
It was the perfect way for the United legend to make his debut as the club’s manager. The tension of the Jose Mourinho era seemed to be instantly washed away and the players delivered a much-improved performance.
Here’s a look at how they fared.
David De Gea 6 – Hardly had anything to do, a rarity this season, while he kept it simple with his distribution. Had little chance with Cardiff’s penalty.
Ashley Young 7 – Kept his spot in the starting XI despite some speculation that Solskjaer’s preference for youth and attacking players. Defended well, but some of his attacking play could have been better.
Victor Lindelof 8 – The Swedish centre-back dealt with everything that came his way, seemingly aware to every danger – whatever little there was – that Cardiff posed.
Phil Jones 7 – Avoided any calamitous moments, always the first thing to check for with Jones. In truth this was a solid, no-nonsense display from the Englishman.
Luke Shaw 7 – Another sturdy performance from Shaw, as he ran up and down his left flank tirelessly. Solid in defence, lively in attack.
Ander Herrera 8 – Fortunate with his goal as it took a slight deflection, but this game was a continuation of his form this month. Herrera now has two goals and an assist in December, across five games.
Nemanja Matic 7 – Matic’s presence in the starting XI may have raised some eyebrows, as many expected Mourinho’s departure would lead to a demotion. Instead, he delivered one of his best displays of the season.
Paul Pogba 9 – His passing ranged from the simple but effective to the sublime, and he ended the game with two assists. Pogba was in the final third far more often than he was under Mourinho, a telling difference.
Jesse Lingard 9 – Two goals and an assist from Lingard, who seemed to be popping up everywhere, embodying the freedom instilled into United.
Marcus Rashford 8 – A Cristiano Ronaldo-esque free-kick got United under way, as Rashford continued his run of good form. Unfortunate to give away what looked like a highly debatable penalty.
Anthony Martial 8 – Finished off a wonderful team move to score his eighth league goal of the season, keeping him atop United’s scoring charts. His incisive passing and movement meant he was a constant threat.
Paul Pogba's game by numbers vs. Cardiff:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 22, 2018
100 passes attempted
84 passes completed
3 fouls won
2 aerials won
2 chances created
That smile is back. 🙃 pic.twitter.com/TPOBnGG7TU
Fred 6 – Would have been disappointed not to start, given the change in manager. Kept United ticking with neat, tidy passing after coming on as a second-half substitute.
Andreas Pereira 6 – Another player hoping for more starts under the new manager, but on this occasion Pereira had little opportunity to show his worth as he came on right at the end of the game.
Marouane Fellaini 6 – It would have been deliciously ironic if the post-Mourinho era began with a goal from Fellaini off the bench. No need for such heroics as he came on to help close out an easy win.