Man United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cannot wait to get "back home" on Boxing Day

Simon Peach 25/12/2018
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cannot wait to lead Manchester United out at Old Trafford for the first time – and he believes his side are ready to put on a Boxing Day show.

Having been parachuted in as caretaker manager for the rest of the season, the fan favourite got the post-Jose Mourinho era off to a dream start.

United ran amok at Solskjaer’s former club Cardiff, scoring five goals in a Premier League match for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in May 2013 as they left the Welsh capital buoyed by a 5-1 win.

Boxing Day offers an opportunity to secure another exciting win as struggling Huddersfield arrive at Old Trafford for a match that will leave the Norwegian pinching himself as he manages “back home” in the hot seat.

“Of course, you try to keep your emotion in check because I’m there to do a job, I’ve got to be focused,” Solskjaer said.

After leading United to emphatic victory in Cardiff, Solskjaer is looking forward to leading United out at Old Trafford.

After leading United to emphatic victory in Cardiff, Solskjaer is looking forward to leading United out at Old Trafford.

“It’s not easy, I don’t think it will be easy, but I’m looking forward to it and I think the boys are looking forward to playing at Old Trafford.

“That’s the key, we should be looking forward to playing there.

“I was sat next to Rene Meulensteen in a reserve-team game once as a coach, second half, and I was there with Cardiff. But, of course, it will be special.”

Solskjaer is looking to become just the fifth manager in United’s history to kick off their reign with back-to-back league wins – a result that would provide another timely shot in the arm.

United have managed to win just five of 12 matches at Old Trafford in all competitions so far in this disappointing campaign, with the pressure appearing to be too much for players at times.

“That comes when you sign for Man United,” Solskjaer said. “You know you’re going to play in front of the best fans in the world.

“Confidence is not something you store into the fridge and pick out.

“You earn it by your performances, by your training, how you feel. Hopefully this gave them a boost, so I’m happy and looking forward to Boxing Day.”

Solskjaer knows all about such pressure having represented United for 11 years as a player, with the pinnacle being his Champions League final winner against Bayern Munich that sealed the treble in 1999.

But there were rough patches and periods of criticism from onlookers and pundits – something that got under the skin of predecessor Mourinho during his tenure.

A number of Solskjaer’s former team-mates were among the most outspoken critics, but the Norwegian will not baulk at comments made by the likes of Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville.

“Don’t worry, Gary will be really hard on me,” he said, smiling. “I sat next to him in the dressing room for 11 years. He was next to me and you know Gary.

“He’s paid now to give his opinion and of course he should do. I’m no different to anyone else.

“I’m no different to any other manager when you lead that team out onto the pitch. It comes with a responsibility but my job is to get the players enjoying themselves.”

There was no need to worry about negative comments at Cardiff as United played with style and purpose – perhaps even raising expectations of what Solskjaer can achieve.

“You can never set the bar too high,” he said. “They’re setting the standard. The players who play for this club have high standards to live up to.

“Today, it’s not like they were outperforming themselves. We want to look at this game. We’ll evaluate, look at a few clips and as I said earlier we can better, we can understand each other better.”

Few expect the air of positivity at United to dissipate on Boxing Day, when Solskjaer will be welcomed by the ’20LEGEND’ banner that has been put back up at Old Trafford.

“They’re the best fans in the world,” he added. “Of course, I have my history at the club and to see that banner is special.

“I just hope in the next five months I’ll do a good enough job for them to keep singing my name.”

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Luke Shaw wants good times to continue at Man United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Andy Hampson 24/12/2018
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer takes charge of his first home match as Manchester United’s caretaker manager as Huddersfield visit Old Trafford on Boxing Day.

The former United striker, brought in on a short-term deal after Jose Mourinho was dismissed last week, got his reign off to a flying start with a 5-1 win at Cardiff on Saturday.

It was only United’s second victory in seven Premier League games and lifted the mood after a frustrating first half of the season.

The travelling United supporters enjoyed the triumph and more free-spirited performance in Cardiff and Solskjaer’s men will now hope to build some momentum.

Defender Luke Shaw said: “As players, that’s what we want the fans to feel.

“Their support gives us that extra push and obviously it was very nice for them to have five goals. We haven’t done that for a while now.

“The most important thing is we got the three points and obviously we look forward now to the next game.

“Obviously I hope everyone has a good Christmas and then looks forward to watching us at home on Boxing Day.”

United will sense an opportunity to further increase the feelgood factor surrounding Solskjaer’s arrival as they host a Huddersfield side who have lost their last five games. The Terriers are 19th in the table having won just two matches all season.

United are also at home as they take on Bournemouth on December 30 before travelling to Newcastle on January 2.

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Ravenous Man United head into festive period with renewed appetite

Matt Jones 23/12/2018
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Manchester United fans and players may have been forgiven for not possessing much of an appetite with Christmas approaching – but both now head into the remainder of 2018 with a ravenous attitude.

In the midst of a particularly melancholy campaign – United’s points tally thus far is their worst in the Premier League era – some festive cheer was belatedly spread among Red Devils supporters with a wonderful performance against Cardiff City on Saturday evening, gift-wrapped in a once familiar coating of poise and panache.

It must be remembered of course that victory came against promoted Cardiff – who caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had taken back into the Championship the last time they were at this level.

They are fighting a familiar battle upon their return to the elite – Neil Warnock’s side lie a place and two points above the bottom three, and have conceded the second most goals this term.

But, do United fans not deserve a happy Christmas? Even Ebenezer Scrooge himself would find it difficult to begrudge them a little festive delight following a season which started with Jose Mourinho already in a bedraggled state following a lack of support and financial investment from the club hierarchy in the summer, leading to him tempering expectation – in July.

United's display in Cardiff was full of vim and vigour - typified by Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial.

United’s display in Cardiff was full of vim and vigour – typified by Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial.

After lifting United to a league-high runners-up spot in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure last season, that was not what United fans wanted to hear from their emboldened leader.

What followed was a five-month rollercoaster of embarrassment, humbug tactics and each lifeless performance stripping away what little polished and protected veneer the once Special One had left. His sacking last week was as ugly as it was abundantly necessary.

The resounding nature of victory against Cardiff provided United’s dying season with a much-needed shot in the arm and painted a picture of brighter things to come in 2019, with the dark cloud which has taken up residence above Old Trafford during the first half of the season already beginning to lift.

Fans must keep their excitement and expectations in check, but after scoring five goals in the league for the first time since Ferguson’s final game in charge, how can supporters bedecked in red not feel at least a little jolly?

One game, one performance, is not going to paper over the cracks of what remains a United squad in need of much more than short term festive joy.

Solskjaer predictably restored Paul Pogba to the starting line-up and he was rewarded with a fine performance.

Solskjaer predictably restored Paul Pogba to the starting line-up and he was rewarded with a fine performance.

Fans will hold out hope that a visit from Santa Claus leaves a player or two under the Christmas tree come the transfer window, with their defence still shaky and devoid of class, save for the fine form of a resurgent Luke Shaw.

The likes of Manchester City and Liverpool also remain some way in front – in terms of both points accrued this season and structure, both on and off the field.

But during a campaign when United’s players have been criticised from all corners about a perceived lack of hunger and turning on the previous manager, against Cardiff there certainly appeared plenty of fire in the belly.

Suddenly, a packed festive fixture list presents United with plenty of points to pluck. A platter of Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Newcastle should provide the Red Devils with a very appetising smorgasbord to feast on – not to mention a kind-looking third round FA Cup tie against struggling Championship outfit Reading before a trip to Tottenham on January 13.

Saturday’s scoreline marked 2,043 days and more than 200 games since United last netted five in a league game – Ferguson’s reign relinquished in typically breathtaking fashion as West Brom snatched a 5-5 draw on the final day of the 2012/13 season.

Jose Mourinho had sucked the life out of many United players and fans.

Jose Mourinho had sucked the life out of many United players and fans.

Since then, not just under Mourinho but predecessors Louis van Gaal and David Moyes, games had been hallmarked by pedestrian passing, United meandering their way to ugly victories against limited opposition or being thoroughly outclassed by the league and Europe’s elite – of which they strangely are now not part of.

But this win and performance provides hope. It was only Cardiff, they’ll say. No-one has heard of half of their players, will come the comments, laced with scorn and sarcasm. Warnock is arguably their most famous face.

Yet in just 90 minutes, Solskjaer was able to coax out of this undoubtedly talented team a performance worthy of the badge.

So, as United fans tuck hungrily into their turkey this December 25, they will eagerly look forward to the next course and what Solskjaer and Co can plate up for them over the next six months.

All of a sudden for United fans, it really is beginning to feel like the most wonderful time of the year.

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