The 1999 treble hero’s impressive caretaker reign led to his inevitable appointment as Jose Mourinho’s full-time successor on Thursday.
Solskjaer was given a warm welcome as United lined up at Old Trafford two days later, but his side could only stutter over the line against Javi Gracia’s high-flying Watford.
Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial struck for the hosts on Saturday, when Watford had far more shots and deserved more than Abdoulaye Doucoure’s late consolation.
Put to Solskjaer that it was a good result but perhaps a less impressive performance, the newly-appointed manager said: “Well summarised.
“(In the) first 20 minutes we started so slow and sloppy and you could see we’ve had players out with injury and the international break.
“We’ve not been able to train them that much, so it’s one of those first games after an international break that you look forward to but know there might be a potential banana skin, because Watford are a good side.
“They didn’t have that many players away and I think they deserved to take the lead.
“But after we scored, for the rest of the first half we played some great counter-attacking stuff (and) defended well.
“We had to because they were dominant but Chris (Smalling) and Jonah (Phil Jones) especially were fantastic, (they) kept us in it.
“In the second half we started sloppier but at 2-0 we were in control until they scored and then anything can happen, but three points is all you can get.”
Watford impressed a week out from their FA Cup semi-final, with Solskjaer saying they are the best side outside the top six along with Wolves, who they face at Wembley next weekend.
United head back to Molineux on Tuesday looking to keep up their top-four tilt and exact revenge for their FA Cup quarter-final loss before the international break.
Goalscorer Martial is a doubt for that match after limping off on Saturday afternoon with an issue that needs assessing.
“Hopefully he can be available for Tuesday,” Solskjaer said.
“He got a bad knock. We’ll check him on Monday morning, probably.”
The United manager defended anonymous Paul Pogba after the match and praised man-of-the-match Luke Shaw, who won possession before producing an excellent pass for Rashford’s opener.
“Luke has got so much in his locker and I can’t wait to see it blossom,” Solskjaer said.
“He’s exceptional going forward and his sharpness defending well. He was top, top class today until he got cramp. That just shows because he struggled during the international break.”
Watford counterpart Gracia was naturally disappointed after his side dominated for large parts of the game only to leave Old Trafford empty-handed.
“It is difficult to explain because I think we had a good performance,” he said.
“It’s true it wasn’t enough to get points but I am happy with the performance. We need to finish better, we need to improve in the last metres but we created chances, we had more shots, more shots on target, more corner kicks.
“We dominated, we played a lot of the time in the opposite half. But the first goal was on a counter-attack, the second goal was in a moment where we felt we were playing well.
“But when you don’t kill, you don’t score, playing these teams with high quality then you can lose any moment.
“We tried until the end because the team believed until the end but it wasn’t enough.”
The hosts got off to a slow start but Marcus Rashford broke the deadlock 28 minutes into proceedings, scoring his 10th Premier League goal of the season.
Watford wouldn’t roll over though and continued to challenge the Red Devils but Anthony Martial scored a second in the 72nd minute. The visitors pulled one back through Abdoulaye Doucoure in the final minute of regulation time but Solskjaer’s side managed to hold out for all three points.
RAZOR SHARP RASHFORD
This season has been something of a coming of age for Rashford. Despite Jose Mourinho’s exasperated comments – and reactions on the touchline – over his finishing during the first half of the season, he was still the one who provided a spark in an otherwise flat United side.
Since Solskjaer’s appointment over the festive period, Rashford has elevated his game to the next level. With the full backing of a manager who appears determined to help him realise his full potential, the 21-year-old’s development has accelerated.
So often made to play out wide owing to his searing pace and willingness to track back, Rashford has excelled as the main striker and looked ever so threatening in that role against Watford.
He consistently ran in behind the visiting defence, leaving his marker for dead immediately when possession would turn over. United’s first attack was down to his movement with Paul Pogba playing a ball down the left channel for him to chase.
The England striker was sharp as a tack again when Luke Shaw did brilliantly to win possession and thread a sublime through ball perfectly into his path. Rashford gave the pass the finishing touch it deserved, lifting it over the onrushing Ben Foster.
His rehabilitation over the international break seems to have worked wonders for his all-round play as he linked up superbly with Anthony Martial in particular.
45 - Since his debut for Manchester United in February 2016, Marcus Rashford has scored 45 goals for the club in all competitions, more than any other player. Local. #MUNWAT pic.twitter.com/IDO8Xj6jCF— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 30, 2019
The hosts may have drawn first blood, but in truth, Rashford’s goal had come against the run of play. The Hornets started the better side and swarmed United’s 18-yard box on several occasions. It took some pretty desperate defending to keep them at bay.
And defence is precisely the area which will concern Solskjaer the most. Phil Jones got off to a shaky start, getting dragged out of position repeatedly and leaving gaping holes in the heart of the defence. Javi Gracia deserves credit for his decision to field a two-pronged attack of Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu.
The aerial threat and hold up play of Deeney coupled with the acceleration and quick feet of Deulofeu was a nightmare for United’s centre-backs. The sheer volume of misplaced passes in midfield only invited more pressure as well until Doucoure scored a consolation goal at the death – the least Watford deserved for their efforts.
Yes, Ole’s at the wheel and United pose a significant threat in attack but serious issues remain in defence, one which will soon have to square-up against Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Man Utd 2-1 Watford FT:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 30, 2019
Pass accuracy: 79%-81%
Chances created: 6-14
Goals from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial give Man Utd the three points in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first game as permanent manager. pic.twitter.com/0AmQjo55MS
How Solskjaer would love to have only his defence keep him up at night. Watford’s visit to Old Trafford though raised questions over United’s midfield as well. Pogba was far from his best but he was still the only one in central midfield creating problems for the opposition.
Ander Herrera was sloppy and lost the ball far too often, even under minimal pressure. He had a pass accuracy of 70 per cent when he was hooked in the 62nd minute. Only the two goalkeepers had a worse completion rate from the 22 players who started the game.
Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata just looked leggy, struggling to keep up with a game that was largely end-to-end. The introductions of Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira brought about an improvement but there were a few players on show in this encounter who shouldn’t be in United’s first XI anymore.
The visitors enjoyed a bright start and had United on the ropes but Solskjaer’s side eventually got into their rhythm after they took the lead. Luke Shaw won possession on the edge of his own box and then surged forward, feeding a fine ball into the path of Marcus Rashford, who dinked over Ben Foster to cap a fantastic move.
United killed the game in the second half with another goal borne out of opportunism. Substitutes Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard combined and the latter’s cross was eventually scrambled home by Anthony Martial.
The Hornets provided a late sting in the tail when Abdoulaye Doucoure ghosted through the Red Devils’ defence to pull one back.
Here are our United ratings:
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-3-1-2)
David De Gea – 7: Down smartly to scoop away Deeney’s header across goal, likewise to palm Pereyra’s dipping shot round the post. Alert.
Ashley Young – 6: With United’s defence unilaterally starting slowly, he misplaced several passes and struggled to contain Pereyra. Forayed forward, with two dribbles, as United grew in confidence.
Chris Smalling – 8: Relished the physical battle with Deeney, winning six aerials in the first half alone. In the thick of things with mammoth 10 clearances.
Phil Jones – 8: Recovered after a shaky start, looking calm and assured. Thunderous sliding tackle on Deulofeu. Read game cleverly, making three interceptions and trailed only Smalling in clearances with nine.
Luke Shaw – 8: Hughes and Deulofeu caused him issues early on but he found his way. Catalyst for opening goal. Fine tackle dispossessed Deeney, vision and execution of pass to set Rashford away was exquisite. Dominant second half, was United’s best player.
Paul Pogba – 6: Looked assured in possession as usual, but unable to truly exert himself. A quieter game than usual though, unlike when that is normally the case, was still at the heart of United attacks.
Nemanja Matic – 5: Untidy start, failed to get to grips with Watford midfield. Patrolled diligently but looked a touch off the pace.
Ander Herrera – 5: Spanish sentry sniped around as usual but struggled to impose his usual all-action style. Subdued and subbed off. Five tackles led United.
Juan Mata – 6: Pace is never going to trouble opponents but always handles possession effectively and a danger when United attacked.
Anthony Martial – 7: Struggled to impact the game in first half, before providing a late sting to the Hornets with dogged work for the killer second. Lucky not to see yellow for a dive when looking for a penalty.
Marcus Rashford – 7: Often said finishing needs refining. Took his goal with the ice cold confidence. Pace and intelligence posed a constant threat.
Andreas Pereira – 6: Earned yellow for handball minutes after coming on before feeding Lingard to cross for Martial’s goal.
Jesse Lingard – 6: Intelligent run allowed him to sneak behind Watford and cross was eventually bundled home by Martial.
Marcos Rojo N/A: Thrown on to sure things up, barely noticeable.