Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s first match as Manchester United manager ended in a comfortable win, with the Reds seeing off his former club Cardiff City 5-1 in Saturday’s Premier League clash. United were on top from the off, with Marcus Rashford, Ander Herrera, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard (twice) getting on the scoresheet in Wales.
The Norwegian’s tenure could scarcely have started better, with Rashford drawing first blood inside five minutes. His free-kick arrowed straight inside Cardiff’s far post, rooting goalkeeper Neil Etheridge to the spot. Solskjær couldn’t conceal his delight, leaping from the bench to mark his first goal as United boss. It was refreshing to see a manager filled with such exultation at seeing their side score.
Though United failed to create much in the following few minutes, things still felt a little different. Solskjær’s selection appeared to enable more fluent attacking play than we’d become accustomed to in José Mourinho’s dying days, though it was admittedly difficult to tell whether or not that was merely a trick of the new light. Not even the second goal offered much of a clue, coming as Herrera’s long-range effort looped off the shoulder of defender Greg Cunningham and into the back of the net just short of the half-hour. Again Solskjær rejoiced.
His celebrations were this time checked by the harsh award of a Cardiff penalty a few minutes later, when Rashford attempted to marshal the ball out of the United area with his shoulder. Adjuding it to have instead struck his upper arm, the assistant referee flagged for a spot-kick, and Víctor Camarasa duly hammered the ball into the top corner of David de Gea’s goal.
But just four minutes later, we saw the most convincing evidence yet of the Solskjær Effect. Some of the most intricate attacking play United have played all season involved a sequence of incisive one-touch passing, and culminated in a brilliant finish from Martial inside the area. United headed into the break with a two-goal lead, and in buoyant spirits.
United continued in the ascendancy in the second half, continually causing problems for the Cardiff defence. The error was forced 10 minutes after the restart, when Sol Bamba tripped Jesse Lingard in the box. The same player stepped up to slot home United’s fourth and all but seal the points. The Reds were in total control, and the only remain question was of the size of the winning margin.
United gradually eased off, though Pogba would’ve iced the (Christmas) cake with a long distance curler 20 minutes from time if not for a fantastic save from Etheridge. Instead they had to wait until the final minute of the 90 before adding a fifth, with Lingard rounding Etheridge and slotting into the empty net after receiving a simple through ball from Pogba. It may only be Cardiff, but this was a hugely encouraging start.