Just three weeks after a rather humiliating retreat from Leipzig, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and Manchester United were on the verge of intense scrutiny. It was important for Manchester United to enter the knockout stages of the Champions League. But after their exit from Champions League, they seem to be unstoppable. So Solskjaer has every reason to enter the new year feeling optimistic about his Manchester United team.
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Serious questions were asked of Solskjaer after United were dumped out of the Champions League in Germany. How much progress has he made at Old Trafford? Is he the right man to take the club forward after two trophyless years in charge? But United answered the questions very neatly. Their most important victory came against Everton in EFL Quarter Finals. They are one step closer to the EFL Cup. They will face Manchester City in the semi-finals with who they drew in the premier league. With the kind of dipping form of Manchester City, United will fancy their chances.
United face Aston Villa looking for the win that would take them joint top of the Premier League with Liverpool. That would be quite something for them considering their disastrous starting to the season. Solskjaer’s star is ascending again and the shadow of Mauricio Pochettino will disappear any moment now if the former Tottenham manager’s return to the dugout with Paris Saint-Germain is confirmed.
The United manager has been reluctant to discuss the title race at this stage of the season. But a few former players also expressed their strong feelings for United’s title challenge. But the players believe one step at a time. The Top 4 race is congested. United will have to beat Liverpool and also win probably all the remaining matches to have a whiff of the title. These are still early days and Solskjaer knows how quickly fortunes can change, particularly in a table in which only 10 points separate the top 11 teams.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has attributed his side's consistency this season to a change in mentality but has warned his players they cannot fake their way into the team given the fierce competition for places.
"Definitely, the mentality is stronger," Solskjaer told a news conference on Thursday.
But Solskjaer said last month that he would know a lot more about United’s prospects after a Christmas program packed with six games in 16 days. But the players rose to their job in an emphatic fashion. Especially Bruno Fernandes is on his way to be one of the legends of Manchester United. The Portuguese joined United just one year ago and he is the most important player for them at the moment. Bruno played 29 games in Premier League for them and scored 18 Goals and 14 Assists. No player had that much impact in such a short period of time for United in their recent history.
Solskjaer talked about their humble approach to the latter half of the game.
“We have competition for places which means you cannot go around and think you can just fake your way being part of this team. You only deserve to be in a team that you contribute to. Everyone has realised they are privileged to be part of such a fantastic club with a fantastic history. When you’re here, enjoy it as much as you can and maybe you will experience some fantastic times.”
The Fergi Time
Late goals were a hallmark of Ferguson’s teams and Solskjaer was encouraged by the manner of Marcus Rashford’s stoppage-time winner against Wolves on Tuesday evening. Everyone praised their never giving up attitude to the game.
“The belief is there more that we don’t have to press the panic button,” he added.
“We’re getting more and more used to the way we want to play and we know we’ve got players who can win you games in one second. One incredible pass or dribble, some skill. We have to know that so many games are decided towards the end. It’s very seldom that you can blow teams away and win by half-time. Then subs will come on and make a difference. That’s happened so many times for us.”
The rotation of a strong squad was another key factor in Ferguson’s success and there is no doubt that United’s strength in depth has helped them cope with the congested fixture list. They have options everywhere on the pitch. The Man United boss remembered his time as a player.
“I remember the times that you feel you deserve to play and you’re left out. That’s part of being at Manchester United, you’ve got top players everywhere. We know that throughout the season if you’re going to win something you have to contribute. Players will have to be angry with me until the next time they play because they’re not happy when I tell them they’re starting on the bench.”
Their star striker Edinson Cavani is facing a three-game ban for his use of racial words on Instagram. He will miss the important game against Manchester City. A Player of his quality would have been an extra bonus facing City. Their defense was under heavy scrutiny but slowly they are organizing their structure. Harry Maguire is the most used player in Premier League till now. His form was instrumental in United’s run of good form.
But nevertheless, Manchester United looks solid. Their coach is careful but full of belief. The players are elated after their restored faith in the system. The title race is on. Liverpool won’t run away with the title this year. We have an exciting Premier League schedule ahead of us.