It’s easy to forget what made Manchester United, what really made the club in the beginning. It wasn’t glamorous players, big names, and certainly not money. It was a group of footballers who wanted to have fun and people who wanted to watch it. Obviously the nature of the game is fundamentally different now, but we shouldn’t lose the idea that it really is just a game. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has given Manchester United an energetic spirit and the freedom to play creative, fun football. Even if it’s only for these three games, football is fun again for the Red Devils.
Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba have been running the show under Solskjaer, and their performances have repaid the trust the Norwegian has placed in them. Pogba scored a brace for the second match in a row, and now has 9 goals and 7 assists in all competitions for United this season. Rashford is on a similar run of good form, who now has 6 goals and 6 assists in all competitions. Both playmakers have thrived under Ole, who is beaming about the form of his new squad.
The return of party football has been huge for the squad, and could be boosted by the return of current top scorer Anthony Martial and last season’s top scorer Romelu Lukaku. Martial performed very well against Cardiff, and scored United’s third goal of the match after initiating some lovely one-touch build up play. Martial and Lukaku both missed the Huddersfield match, but each had a positive return performance against Bournemouth, with Martial setting up Rashford’s goal and Lukaku scoring off the bench. Their return has fans excited for even more goals after three straight wins under Solskjaer, but another return that could potentially be exciting is that of Alexis Sánchez. He’s been a flop at United so far, but appears eager to shake that reputation ASAP.
Alexis has had a dreadful 2018. He showed brief flashes of form (See FA Cup Semi-Final, 3-2 Derby win, and Newcastle winner), but he has yet to justify the wages he is being paid or the historic no. 7 that he wears. After returning to Chile to rehab an apparently serious injury he suffered in training many speculated he had played his last match for United, but with the arrival of Ole and the return of enterprising football Alexis caught the first plane back to Manchester and has returned to training. He could feature soon with a visit to St. James’ Park and an FA Cup tie with Reading on the horizon, and Ole seems intent on rotating his options.
It has been noted that United’s last three opponents aren’t exactly the most difficult United will face, and should be a warning against getting too excited about wins, but the reality is that it’s been these matches that have held back the previous three managers from competing. Losses and draws to mid/bottom table sides have plagued United in the Premier League since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. They were particularly costly last year as United failed to keep up with Manchester City in the title race. Losses to Huddersfield, Newcastle, West Brom, and Brighton, and draws against Stoke, Leicester, Burnley and Southampton cost United a total of 20 points. Dropped points are a problem again this season. Poor results against Brighton, Wolves, West Ham, Crystal Palace, and Southampton were part of the reason José Mourinho lost his job. These are the games teams must win if they have title, or even top 4, aspirations, and Solskjaer has United doing just that already.
United currently sit 8 points behind 4th place Chelsea, and 6 points behind 5th place Arsenal (with a game in hand). Cracking the top 4 is doable, and if this is the way United will be approaching every game then fans will be more than pleased with the attacking effort. Old Trafford cannot stop singing at the moment, and Ole’s got the Reds playing the way they should.
Something tells me they’re onto something good.