Credit United’s Talented Squad and Not Solskjaer

Updated: Jan 22, 2019

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made a perfect start to life as Manchester United manager.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made a perfect start to life as Manchester United manager. (Reuters)

Since taking over the reins at Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the club have 6 wins out of 6 in all competitions bringing a renewed joy and energy to the players, staff, and fans at Old Trafford. So, credit to him for doing the opposite of what failed mightily under Jose Mourinho.

Should the former United forward receive so much of the praise for the turnaround though? Not really. The recent success of the Red Devils should instead be attributed to the quality of the squad more than the new man in charge. 

Look at Manchester United’s roster. They have world class players as well top tier talent. 11 of their players went to the World Cup in Russia and most of them (David De Gea, Paul Pogba, Victor Lindelof, Romelu Lukaku, Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic, and Marcos Rojo) played major roles in their nation’s pursuit of the title.

Paul Pogba celebrates goal against Bournemouth.
Paul Pogba celebrates goal against Bournemouth (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Paul Pogba set the tone of under performance during the Mourinho tenure. A 2018 World Cup winner, 2014 World Cup Young Player of the tournament, and once the most expensive player in the world, the Frenchman struggled and rarely played as well under the Portuguese manager as he did for Juventus or as he does for France. Since returning from the World Cup, Pogba hardly ever looked worth the $100 million

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Now, though? A bargain price for his services. With Solskjaer leading the team, Pogba is back starting every game instead of sitting on the bench and in that time has scored 4 goals and assisted another 5, including the jaw dropping dime piece he sent 40 yards in stride to Marcus Rashford who buried it for the only goal and winner against Tottenham this past weekend.

Pogba is a world class player. He didn’t show it under Mourinho but he is now. 

Say what you will about David De Gea and his mediocre or even below average World Cup with Spain this past summer, but he’s still one of the top 5 keepers in the world.

David de Gea made 11 saves at Wembley.
David de Gea made 11 saves at Wembley. [Getty Images]

De Gea put on an absolute master class against Spurs, making 11 saves using both his hands and feet leading to a cleat sheet and a victory at Wembley. De Gea’s performance ties for the best goal keeping performance I’ve ever seen in my life with Tim Howard’s display for the US against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup knockouts.

After the win at Wembley, all of Manchester United’s players swarmed the Spaniard with hugs and elation and the traveling supporters gave him a standing ovation. He’s a world class keeper and this game gave a reminder of how quick, strong, and great he really is.

The Spanish international now has two clean sheets in a row under Solskjaer and looks to be in great form. 

Solskjaer has indeed gotten the best out of his superstars so far, but so did other club and country managers when they had Pogba or De Gea at their disposal. Credit where credit is do, but Pogba and De Gea were world class before Solskjaer and will continue to be so after him. 

Outside of two world class players, the Norwegian has a lot of other talent to choose from. One great decision he made was putting Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, and Anthony Martial up front in a three, a combination extremely rare under Mourinho.

Emilio Alvarez and Jesse Lingard.
Emilio Alvarez and Jesse Lingard. (Image: Man Utd via Getty Images)

Rashford and Lingard were a part of the England squad that got to the semi finals of Russia 2018 and if that doesn’t signal talent, then I don’t know what does.

Rashford recently has played in his best position as a central striker which has led to four goals and two assists over the past month. He didn’t start for England at the World Cup as Harry Kane, who’s pretty good by most accounts, kept him on the bench. Instead, Rashford was always the first in line to make an impact off the bench and enter the games.

Jesse Lingard on the other hand started regularly for Gareth Southgate’s squad in Russia and scored in the group stage. With Mourinho in charge at Old Trafford, Lingard inconsistently saw himself in the starting XI. Now though, he’s playing regularly and has two goals and two assists since the managerial change. 

Anthony Martial missed out on a World Cup spot with the French team not for a lack of talent but a lack of playing time at United last year and that continued this season as well until Mourinho’s departure. Under Solskjaer, Martial is in the squad and so far scored one goal and provided one assist. 

Martial celebrates.
Martial celebrates. [Man Utd via Getty]

When he moved to Manchester, people thought he would turn into the next best thing, another super star in red. He never reached that under Van Gaal or Mourinho and may not under Solskjaer but does have the potential and is playing with a renewed optimism. 

The front three of Rashford as the Number 9 flanked by Lingard and Martial is no doubt the best combination in attack at Old Trafford and can be one of the best in England for the next five to ten years. Is that because of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? I don’t think so. 

I said back in November that those three should lead the line over the next decade and if I can see it, obviously a manager who’s at training everyday should also see it.

Victor Lindelof is another player exceeding expectations under the Norwegian. However, Solskjaer isn’t the only manager to get the best of the Swede. Lindelof played almost every game for Sweden as they progressed to the quarterfinals this past summer. You can’t be a key player in a World Cup quarterfinal unless you have talent.

When he came to Manchester, the goal was for Lindelof to be a mainstay in central defense, however under Mourinho he made several mistakes and was in the starting XI one game and out the next. Since the manager change, he’s been a staple in the back line and has played well.

Although Romelu Lukaku has only been a sub since the Baby Faced Assassin took over, as a super sub he has two goals. And don’t forget that he led Belgium’s line to the third place finish at Russia 2018 and he’s the all time leader scorer for his country. 

On top of that, he scored a boat load of goals when he played for Everton. Lukaku has played well under several managers, not just Solksjaer. 

Nemanja Matic. [Getty]
Matic. [Getty]

Nemanja Matic has been a key cog at United since he arrived from Chelsea and was important for Serbia even though they got knocked out in the group stage in Russia.

Has Manchester United improved over the last month with their new manager? Absolutely. But did they also woefully underperform with Mourinho at the helm? Without a shadow of a doubt. 

Manchester United’s movement from 6th in the table under Mourinho to……still 6th in the table under Solksjaer has more to do with how poorly they played before the manager change than how great they’ve been because of the new manager.

With the amount of talent the team has, United should have fought for the title and top 4 regardless of who was in charge. They have two world class players, a World Cup winner, and seven of the 11 players that went to Russia got to the semi finals. That is a lot of talent.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Paul Pogba after Bournemouth win (Image: Action Images via Reuters)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Paul Pogba after Bournemouth win (Image: Action Images via Reuters)

In the Premier League, only Manchester City had more players in Russia with 16 and Tottenham with 12. Chelsea tied with 11.

Manchester United’s recent resurgence should get credited to the quality of the squad more than the manager.

Since Solskjaer took over, United’s schedule consisted of Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, and Newcastle in the league and Reading in the FA Cup. So the test was against Tottenham as they were the first quality opponents. 

And United passed that test by winning on the road. 

Mourinho. [Man Utd via Getty]

If Mourinho had managed United through that same stretch of games would they have won them all? With 17 goals for and only 3 goals against? I don’t think so. Very unlikely.

With this squad, fans should expect them to sweep these opponents aside regardless of who’s in charge, whether Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Zinedine Zidane, Mauricio Pochettino, Antonio Conte, Max Allegri, or any other manager stood on the touchline.

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Mourinho without a doubt had it all wrong, especially in his last few games. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer quickly and swiftly changed everything and immediately reaped the benefits, much to the delight of United supporters. Therefore, he does deserve some part of the credit.

Mauricio Pochettino. [Julian Finney / Getty Images]
Mauricio Pochettino. [Julian Finney / Getty Images]

However, if Pochettino, Zidane, Conte, or anyone else came in, would United have seen this resurgence? Yes, because of how talented the team is.

Now, Manchester United look like they will challenge for the top 4 and therefore qualify for the Champions League where before Mourinho’s sacking there was no chance. They should have always been in the hunt honestly.

The big question now is, should Solskjaer get the full time job? If they win the Champions League or somehow surge up to 2nd in the Premier League, then he deserves at least some consideration. Based on these few performances with world class players finally playing like world class players and the club still sitting in 6th? No. 

Solskjaer and Rashford.
Solskjaer and Rashford. (Image: Man Utd via Getty Images)

Has Solskjaer overseen the reemergence of Manchester United in the Premier League over the past month? Absolutely. Does he deserve the full time manager position? Debatable. Is he a miracle worker? No.

United should have always played as well as they have in the past month. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer just happens to the be the guy leading a supremely talented squad. 

Written By Drew Pells [@DrewPells].