United fell behind early to Southampton and then, having turned the game around in the second half, still needed a late winner to grab a dramatic 3-2 victory at home and move back into fourth place in the table.
Andreas Pereira scored a stunning goal and picked up an assist, while Romelu Lukaku plundered twice, as United pulled off a classic win. Here’s a look at the talking points.
ANDREAS PEREIRA FINALLY SHOWS HIS QUALITY
It’s been an up-and-down season for Pereira. He started and impressed in United’s season opener against Leicester City, but after being hooked at half-time in the next game, the disastrous loss against Brighton, Pereira had made only more three starts this season. In the most recent one, against Burnley, his error cost United a goal.
But he played well last week against Liverpool, despite having to be part of a defensive performance which usually highlights his weaknesses rather than his strengths.
On Saturday, the Belgium-born Brazil international delivered a superb display, scoring a wonderful equaliser with a long-range curler and then setting up Lukaku for United’s first go-ahead goal.
It helps that he played in a more natural position.
“Maybe we’ve found a better position for him than a No6, he’s more of an 8 or a 10”, Solskjaer said after the game, and on Saturday’s evidence, plus his poorer performances playing deeper in midfield earlier this season, it’s hard to argue.
When Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera are fit, it’s hard to see where Pereira can fit in Solskjaer’s starting XI. But if he can follow up this outing with one of similar quality against Paris Saint-Germain, he’ll give his manager a welcome selection headache.
53': Andreas Pereira scores— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) March 2, 2019
59': Andreas Pereira assists
The midfielder's turned the game on his head. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/b1y0iVRAsx
LUKAKU’S CONFIDENCE IS BACK
It’s not just that Lukaku has now scored four goals in his last two games, or that he has seven goals and two assists in 14 games under Solskjaer – five and two in eight starts.
It’s the nature of his play that shows just how much the confidence is flowing through the Belgian’s veins at the moment.
Last week, against Liverpool, he should have had an assist after an excellent slide rule pass put Jesse Lingard through on goal – a similar moment to the assist he did get against Arsenal last month, when he put Alexis Sanchez through. That sort of vision and deftness of touch hasn’t been the hallmark of Lukaku’s game during his time at United.
As for the goals, three of his four this week have come from his supposedly weaker right foot. And they’ve all been well-taken, too, curling finishes into the corner. Saturday’s winner was a right-footed shot from outside the box. Just the fact that he had the confidence to take it, plus the quality to convert, shows how much Lukaku is enjoying his game right now.
There was also a exchange of one-touch, near telepathic passes with Marcus Rashford that showed the two could blossom into a deadly partnership. If Pereira is giving Solskjaer a minor selection headache, Lukaku’s form should be giving the manager a much bigger one.
Romelu Lukaku this season:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) March 2, 2019
🧭 Only started 58% of PL games
😱 Overtook Didier Drogba in all-time PL top scorers list
📈 Scored double digits in the league for the 7th consecutive season
🔥 Averaged 0.6 goals per 90
🔴Man Utd’s top scorer in the league
Respect. 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/iLUVtRXeN7
SMILING SOLSKJAER SHOWING HIS TACTICAL CHOPS
Man Utd have now collected 32 points in the Premier League since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over as manager.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 2, 2019
At least five points more than any other team. 👏 pic.twitter.com/xbO0rGtikh
By now, the narrative that Solskjaer has simply put an arm around dejected players and brought smiles back to their faces should be consigned to the dustbin. There have been plenty of displays of his tactical acumen in his 16 games as United manager. And a manager who is continuing to have the best start in league history doesn’t achieve that just by smiling.
Saturday was a manager’s dream. With his side trailing 1-0, he brought on Diogo Dalot, who assisted Pereira’s equaliser. Then, with United chasing a winner having been pegged back to 2-2, Solskjaer called on the much-maligned Fred. The Brazilian duly set up Lukaku’s winner with a clever reverse pass. Assists from two substitutes – can a manager have a better game?
Solskjaer’s done an excellent job of both lifting and managing this squad, especially during the recent spate of injuries. Pereira and Fred should now walk into next week’s game against PSG full of confidence.
Meanwhile, United were 13, 11, and eight points behind Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arsenal when Solskjaer took over. 12 games later, they’re above the latter two, and within three points of Spurs. The “anyone could do what Ole’s done” line of thinking has been debunked.