Eight wins from eight under Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Manchester United are purring. After their latest away victory at the Emirates in the FA Cup fourth round, the Red Devils have overcome every test that has stood in their way since the Norwegian took over from José Mourinho.
Man United have always prided itself on its ability to transition from rigid defending to counter-attacking excellence. The most famous of goals coming in 2008/09 when the Red Devils surged forward from their own box and within 10 seconds the ball was in the back of the Arsenal net thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s finish. It was the pinnacle of United’s counter-attacking era.
Against Arsenal, United had discovered their old style. Through Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Jesse Lingard and Alexis Sánchez, as well as when Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford entered the fray, the team had an out-ball like no other. While these players all played under the Portuguese manager, they did not express themselves in such a manner that caused destruction to opposition defences.
This calendar year is going to be important for the reinvigoration of the Chile international Sánchez and so far, he has showed his intent. Two assists in two cameo performances in the Premier League, as well as a hugely important first goal against the Gunners in the FA Cup, shows what Sánchez is all about. He has the imagination and innate feeling of where he needs to be and is among the chances.
The Chilean has already shown mass improvement since Mourinho was relieved of his duties – a manager he struggled to warm to and adapt to his philosophy of playing the game. Sánchez is the type of player to stick to one system and become rooted to a specific area of the pitch; instead, he is a free-flowing, fluid attacker that constantly interchanges with the players around him and causes immense disturbance to his opposite man.
In Solskjær’s formation so far, the front three of United have all interchanged and become a lot more fluid in how they go forward. They are thriving under the Norwegian and have brought a renewed sense of freedom to the team. As they punished Arsenal on the counter-attack even when the Gunners were pouring numbers forward, Mourinho might have opted for a different strategy that kept United in their own half for the remaining part of the game. That last and crucial goal might never have come.
Ander Herrera had another terrific game that highlights his credentials to become Manchester United’s next captain. The Spaniard is a fantastic commander of the team and impresses with his consistent performances. Even under Mourinho, Herrera’s level never dropped as low as his team-mates’ did, with the Spain international being one of the Portuguese boss’ lieutenants in his first year in charge.
While Herrera is not a goal-scoring midfielder nor provide tens of assists, he provides an immensely useful job in midfield in breaking up player and giving it to players around him that can create chances. The Spaniard does have a knack of scoring long range goals that are impressive, Herrera’s job has been to allow Pogba to perform at the best of his ability – which is what fans are now seeing.
The Red Devils have some important fixtures coming up in the Premier League that will test them at times. Burnley and Leicester City are two teams they should beat, it is important for Solskjær not to allow his players to become complacent after winning all eight of their previous matches. Other teams around them competing for a top four finish will drop points, and so it is crucial for United not to give them the upper hand by wasting chances to keep the pressure firmly on.
Solskjær has done a mightily impressive job in clawing back the 11 point difference to Arsenal and are now level with them in fifth. He has done it by deploying an attacking swagger that the Manchester United fans are grateful to see once more. If he can keep up what he has started, there will be few obstacles in his way in landing the permanent job come the end of the season.
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