Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Paul Pogba faced their first critiques, in the Solskjaer era, following the 0-2 loss at Old Trafford against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League. For six days, (some) United fans wondered if the shine was wearing off of Solskjaer’s run as manager after the Norwegian’s tactics were questioned and Pogba was sent off against the Parisian giants.
Oh, how fickle football fans can be?
An away cup match at Stamford Bridge — that ended up sounding more like a home fixture for United, thanks to its away support — was next on the docket for Ole’s men and the team responded with a convincing win against rivals Chelsea FC. With both teams competing for the final Champions League spot in the Premier League, the battle for a place in the FA Cup quarterfinals was also a measuring stick for both teams, post-Mourinho.
Solskjaer leaned on his diamond-shaped midfield to lead the way after losing Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard to injuries. Pogba and Ander Herrera turned in quality play after play as they competed for who would finish as the man of the match. Pogba acted as United’s creative force as he served up Herrera’s go-ahead strike in the 31st minute before Pogba headed in an insurance goal just before halftime. Herrera put on a Tasmanian Devil-like performance in the center of the midfield as he harassed every Chelsea player that came across him.
Crowd favorite — regardless of team support — Juan Mata played a redeeming shift at the top of the diamond against Chelsea after struggling on the right wing in previous matches. Another former Chelsea player wearing red, Nemanja Matić, anchored the midfield. Solskjaer flashed his skills as a personnel manager and had the confidence to stick with Matić even though the Serbian was playing recklessly on a yellow card. Matić paid his manager back with continuity and toughness at the bottom point of the diamond.
The defensive tactics remained unchanged from previous big match ups as Solskjaer’s men looked to bend but not break. Ashley Young, Victor Lindelöf, Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw soaked up Chelsea’s pressure while saving Sergio Romero from having to make as many saves as David De Gea had to against Tottenham.
The tenacious play in the midfield and in the back allowed United to strike with lethal counters. Marcus Rashford proved, again, that he is the fastest player in the Premier League and his speed cannot be matched by any English defense. Even Romelu Lukaku played 73 decent minutes as Rashford’s partner at the top of the diamond. The Belgian often fanned out to the wing and nearly delivered an early goal with a low cross that had to be kicked out of play by David Luiz.
The overall product on the pitch was vintage-Solskjaer. The team conceded the majority of the possession but blitzed the opposing team on the attack. Pogba, Herrera and Rashford were fantastic and helped OGS cover up Martial’s and Lingard’s absence. The match at Stamford Bridge saw United play like it was in the middle of its first unbeaten run — against a top side no less — and should provide comfort for supporters with questions after the PSG match. Ole proved he’s still comfortable at the wheel and PSG will probably just be a bump in the road (apologies for the car pun).
Now, United will take its regained momentum home to Old Trafford to host Liverpool. Following the career-ending defeat in the first leg of the North West Derby for you know who, United will look to significantly hurt Liverpool’s title chances while also putting space between fourth and fifth place in the table.
As for the FA Cup, United drew Wolverhampton Wanderers FC, minutes after the end of the match at Stamford Bridge. United previously drew 1-1 against the newly-promoted side, but that was back in September when the other guy was managing this team. Ole will get his chance against the faux-Liga Nos side on March 16 when United travel to the West Midlands.
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Where does Solskjaer stand now?
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The next manager of Manchester United
A great caretaker with more to prove
Keeping another manager’s seat warm