On Boxing Day, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer leads his Manchester United side out of the Old Trafford tunnel for the first time. Expect a few songs and a pretty raucous reception. Especially after Saturday’s demolition of Cardiff City re-ignited hopes for an exciting second half of the season. After watching the Reds batter the Bluebirds, the top four suddenly doesn’t seem so far off.
Solskjaer made two important changes in his first team sheet as caretaker boss — recalling Paul Pogba to the starting eleven and deploying Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, and Jesse Lingard across the front line. Whether it was Ole’s tactical tweaks or just a really strong case of the new manager bounce, United looked unstoppable.
A swerving Rashford free kick and a deflected Ander Herrera effort handed Solskjaer his dream start. Anthony Martial returned to the starting lineup for the first time since his injury against Arsenal and scored United’s third goal of the half to celebrate his 100th Premier League appearance in fine style.
After the break, a Lingard brace capped off the 5-1 victory and sends the Reds into Boxing Day brimming with confidence. What a difference a week makes.
Everyone expected a strong response from the players this weekend, so now Solskjaer’s challenge is to sustain that mentality and focus among his new charges. More than anything, that will be the true test of his fitness for the permanent managerial position. That’s easier said than done, of course, but Ole tends to exceed expectations.
“You’ve got to go one game at a time,” Solskjaer told BT Sport after his first win. “We’ve got Huddersfield on Boxing Day. Let the boys enjoy tonight and then we’ll look forward.”
Solskjaer promised that all of his players will get a chance during this busy festive period, but he might be tempted to just name the same team on Wednesday. No one in a red shirt did anything to lose their place. And all of them ran their socks off.
“The easiest thing in the world to work on is your work-rate, because it’s free,” Solskjaer said. “It’s just attitude and the application of the boys. Because of the occasion, they do maybe make a run or two more than normal, but you’ve got players like Jesse [Lingard] and Rashford up top. They do run a lot!”
Whenever Romelu Lukaku returns from his mysterious leave, he will find it hard to break back into the lineup. Over the last month or so, United’s attack has looked far more dangerous with Rashford leading the line — and, after Cardiff, he deserves a solid run as the starter.
Manchester United’s easy Christmas period continues on Wednesday with a Huddersfield Town side totally bereft of confidence (and goals). David Wagner’s Terriers have now lost five in a row and rival Fulham for the Premier League cellar. At the weekend, Southampton continued their post-Hughes resurgence with a 3-1 victory at Huddersfield.
The problems start up front, where Huddersfield’s forwards have scored a grand total of 0 goals this season. That’s no typo. Zero goals. No wonder the Terriers are staring down the barrel of relegation.
As a team, they’ve managed only 11 goals on the season — a mark that ranks dead last in the entire Football League. David Wagner is a really good manager, but he’s struggling to find a way to pull his Terriers out of this tailspin.
“When you play 18 games and your strikers haven’t scored, that is not what we want,” Wagner said. “Our strikers have to try and score in the next game.” If nothing else, he’s a master at stating the obvious.
Forwards Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre need to perk up soon, or Huddersfield can pack their bags for the Championship. The club’s top scorer, midfielder Aaron Mooy, suffered a serious knee injury earlier this month and will be out until February.
Mooy joins Tommy Smith (hamstring), Danny Williams (knee), Abdelhamid Sabiri (collarbone), and Jonathan Hogg (knee) on the sidelines. In a bit of good news for the Terriers, Wagner hinted that Hogg might be back for the Boxing Day match.
“This is a tough time at the moment, of course,” Wagner said after the Southampton loss. “We have to make ourselves independent from the circumstances and perform again. We have to show we have learned from this lesson today.”
Anything less than three points on Boxing Day would be a sorry return for Manchester United. With the club still miles from the top — and with only five months in charge — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s remit focuses on putting smiles back on the players’ faces and points on the board. Let’s hope his second act is as much fun as Saturday’s opener at Cardiff.