Does Solskjaer Perform Miracles?

Well, frankly it is looking like he just might, and here at freetips.com, we are rooting for him. It has been a turbulent season for United, and the silverware has looked so far out of their grasp it has been a humbling time for the once glorious reds who ruled Manchester.

As if Manchester City winning last season was not bad enough for them, it is looking likely that the Manchester blues will retain the title for the second year running while Old Trafford languishes as a former ground of glory that has now seen a downturn in luck.

Such has been the gravity of the situation that in December manager Jose Mourinho was given his marching orders. He may now live to regret one of his final comments when he stated that it would need ‘almost a miracle’ for the team to pull out of the nosedive and finish respectably within the top four. Clearly, caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took that as ‘challenge accepted’, and boy has he turned around the performance level of the Red Devils. When Mourinho left the club they were 11 points behind the much coveted Champions League place. It was indeed looking like an impossible task.

You can almost hear the “Mission Impossible” title credits rolling as Ole worked his magic, racking up an incredible eight wins and one draw in just six short weeks, landing Man United into that fourth place position one point clear of Arsenal and Chelsea. There is little doubt Ole Gunnar Solskjaer considers United his home, and his own playing career there was rather successful.

The Baby-faced Assassin as he was dubbed earned a reputation as a super sub frequently coming off the bench at the last moment and scoring some incredible goals. Unfortunately, a severe knee injury ended his career in 2007 and keen to stay with his club he became a coach and ambassador. Later his role was augmented, and he took on coaching responsibility for the reserve team.

He returned home in 2011 to manage Molde and secure them their first ever Tippeligaen title, and then just to prove it wasn’t a fluke he did it again for a second time. In his third season, he took them to the 2013 Norwegian Football Cup Final where the team triumphed. After a brief stint at Cardiff, he was back at Molde until 2018 when Man United came knocking, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer answered.

It is clear that momentum is building as fans, and players alike, feel that it is time Solskjaer was officially made the manager, but not everyone agrees. Gary Neville has said that he does not think the timing is right and the situation should be looked at in March and decided in April.

Wes Brown, however, feels that Solskjaer is by far and away the best fit the team have had for some time and that the formalities should be put in place to make him full-time manager. Whatever happens, it has to be said that Ole has actually performed the much-needed miracle.

Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez needs to return to Arsenal or leave the Premier League

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Despite the odd good game for Manchester United it is fair to say that Alexis Sanchez will never be remembered as one of the Old Trafford greats and even though he has only been at the club for one season perhaps it is the right time to quit the club.

United are good, Sanchez is good but for whatever reason the two entities just don’t fit. When Jose Mourinho bought Sanchez from Arsenal last summer it was seen as a fantastic deal. Because Sanchez was far and away Arsenal’s best player of the past few seasons. It seemed almost bizarre in fact that Arsenal would sell to a Premier League rival but sell they did.

Once at United Sanchez just didn’t perform most blamed Mourinho’s tactics and let’s be honest the whole team were not performing. But what has been surprising is that Sanchez has not picked up his form under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer despite the rest of the squad doing so.

Even Solskjaer has admitted that there isn’t anything they can do with the player- but he will give him time and has commented that the player is a quality one who needs to find himself. The truth is that Sanchez does not seem happy at United and has simply not settled into life up in Manchester- it happens and perhaps the Chilean should not be too harshly judged about it.

Could he return to Arsenal? There were rumours that he wanted to play for Manchester City, but he has become the shadow of the player that everyone knew and it is unlikely now that City manager Guardiola would go for his signature. But at Arsenal as long as Unai Emery wanted him, he would be welcomed back. It was clearly an environment that Sanchez enjoyed and revelled in, but of course everyone needs to be on the same page for that to happen.

Otherwise perhaps the simple solution for Sanchez would be to leave the Premier League- maybe a return to Spain is on the cards? It just might be a culture that suits Sanchez more anyway. Although a return to Barcelona does not seem possible, but Sanchez is still good enough to play for any of the top six sides in La Liga.

Sanchez is a quality player that there is no doubt, but has there been a more unhappier high profile Premier League player of  the past six months?

Is a top 4 Premier League finish worth more than a cup trophy?

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How football has changed when certain managers and one of them being Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino admitted recently that finishing in a top 4 place was more important than trophies, but is that true? And why has this developed?

Make no mistake there are plenty of other managers who feel the same way about the top 4. The top four at least in England has become important because it is a gateway of course to play in the Champions League. Of course it is in fact the top 3 who automatically qualify for the Champions League. The team who finish 4th have to play in a special play off in order to get into the competition proper. But English teams have always achieved that.

It does seem rather odd though that some teams would prefer a top 4 place and not an FA Cup or League Cup win. For the bigger teams still winning domestic cups is important and let’s not forget that 90% of wins in the FA Cup over the past 25 years have come from the very best teams in England- Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. Sure the teams and players want to jump higher but winning is winning and keeps players in a good mental state.

Other teams who usually finish mid table have been guilty of not playing their strongest sides in the hopes of, what? Rare has it been to see one of these teams finish in a top 4 place. Leicester of course did it in 2016 when they won the league and Everton did it a decade ago, but it still remains a rare feat.

But has football come to when certain teams are not 100% into the domestic cup competitions? It’s not as if there is 10 different trophies up for grabs each season. There are 4, and for the teams outside the top six there is just realistically 2 each season- these teams should be and need to be going for victory all of the time.

Instead teams seem to be saving themselves for a top 4 place and the irony cannot be lost on anyone, because they are trying to qualify simply to be in another cup competition.

Arsenal did it for years, albeit they did win a few FA Cups in Arsene Wenger’s last years but it feels as though the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea might seem happy to act that way too. Surely this is short changing the fans who really do want that day out at Wembley and to experience and win a cup final.

Alas like most things in life it comes down to money, and the Champions League has plenty of it, and of course exposure and TV rights will play its part. But the big clubs have the big budgets and good squads and really should be going for everything once the season kicks off. Making choices and putting all of your eggs in one basket rarely works out.

After PSG loss could Zidane or Pochettino get Manchester United job?

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Tuesday night seemed to signal that current Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has found his level with his team after they were beaten 2-0 by French champions PSG in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Make no mistake PSG produced the perfect away record and United look likely to be going out of the competition. This loss is also the first under Solskjaer since the Norwegian took the job in December and it will be quite one to take.

The knee jerk reaction will be predictable for most, that because United lost to PSG in the Champions League, that’s it at the United board should now be looking to a more established manager for next season. Of course it’s true that OGS as he has commonly been named by the British media has a very average record as a manager. Being in charge of Molde for so many seasons is no real gage into how great he is and when he did get to manage in the Premier League for Cardiff they were relegated.

But OGS and United go together and it would be a mistake to criticise him too much. Because that is what in effect has happened to him, too much too soon. This is a United side that under his guidance went to Tottenham in the league and won. A team who knocked out Arsenal in the FA Cup, there is much to love about United since Jose Mourinho was sacked.

At the same time the football world is a business and it can be a very harsh one at that. Ed Woodward and co will be looking at this game and thinking that there are bigger managers out there. But OGS should not lose his job based on the Champions League this season, indeed if he can guide United to a top 4 place which he is currently doing then he deserves a second crack at the job next season and with a proper transfer window to boot.

Zinedine Zidane and Mauricio Pochettino have been touted as replacements. However it looks unlikely that the Tottenham manager will take up the role, as the club will be moving into their new stadium, the timing just seems off. But Zidane is out of a job and his attacking style and methods would most probably suit a club like United.

Sir Alex Ferguson may have a say in the appointment too, you can’t help but feel that the odds may just be stacked against OGS at this time.

Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer should be permanent Manchester United manager- what are the club waiting for?

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In 2 months Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer has done to Manchester United what three other managers and five years could not do, he has them playing the Manchester United way again so why haven’t the board announced him as United’s permanent manager?

What Solsjkaer got the job the whole mood shifted at the club one that had been moody, downbeat and not playing to their strengths under Jose Mourinho. But now it was like the mid 1990s again. Hardly anyone could have believed United would have been able to catch up to Arsenal and Chelsea and are now in 4th place. In December United were 9 points behind Arsenal, now they are a point above them and make no mistake they will fire even more ahead in the coming weeks/months.

But the United board just aren’t trusting him yet. Their argument will be that this is just the beginning- but what manager has done this well? David Moyes Louis van Gaal and even Jose Mourinho showed weakness in their first few months in charge of the club. While it is true that this incredible run will end at one point for the Norwegian, the players love him and respect him and he does have a future at the club. The worry will be if United bring in a big name and it doesn’t work out.

Zinedine Zidane may have been on most fans thoughts to come to United but we have to remember he had problems in the past with the likes of Ronaldo and especially Gareth Bale at Real Madrid, even if he was successful. The key for Solsjkaer’s success is that he is ready for his teams to play attacking football but is also ready for man management. He is happy to love every player that wears United’s famous red jersey and feels like the first proper United man in the dugout since Sir Alex Ferguson said goodbye back in 2013.

It feels that Ed Woodward and co are going to wait to see how United reach against PSG in the Champions League and feels very unfair. Nobody would have thought that United were going to win the Champions League this season. Surely now it was all about a top 4 place and deep runs in a cup. United are still there in the FA Cup and they should do well against PSG, but if they fail the manager should not be judged in this way. Let’s remember that 60 days ago he was in charge of Molde in Norway and dreaming of this job.

Give him the position, his blood and DNA belong at United and Old Trafford. Don’t let the excuse of him finally losing a game, which is going to happen be the moment that the hierarchy make the 4th mistake in 6 years.

From PSG v Manchester United- who will take advantage in the Champions League knock out round of 16?

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This week sees the beginning of the Champions League knock out stages. And as ever there are some genuinely tasty fixtures to look forward to, so let’s take a look at the teams who can take an advantage from the first leg and try and get one foot into the quarter finals.

Tuesday kicks off with a gigantic match when Manchester United play PSG. When this match was drawn out of the hat in December, United would have been running for cover. Under Jose Mourinho the team had become a shadow of their once great self and it was felt that PSG would be just too strong for them. But if a week is a long time in football then 2 months is a lifetime. Mourinho has since been sacked and Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer has come in and still not lost a game after 2 months in charge.

The Norwegian has worked miracles for the club who have gone from 6th to surpass both Chelsea and Arsenal in the league, and just keep winning games. They are arguably favourites to at least win the first leg on what should be a very atmospheric night in Manchester. Since December PSG have finally lost a game and have also lost Neymar to injury. Edinson Cavani could also be a doubt for the first leg. But surely United can win this game: Prediction Manchester United 2-1 PSG

The other game will take place between Roma and Porto and this is a classic match up of teams who only seem to perform when they are at home. We could see a very attacking game with goals but the pick here will be to see the Serie A team get a narrow win. This game much like the United one will be settled only in the second leg. Prediction: Roma 2-1 Porto

On Wednesday the games continue with Ajax v Real Madrid. Ajax lost at the weekend to stay 2nd in the league but of course their thoughts would have turned to this game sometime ago. Ajax used to be a great side but have dipped heavily in recent years, and yet this side look like getting the famous name of Ajax back to their best- there really has been a big shift. We all know about Real Madrid, 3 times winners of this competition in the past three years- an unbelievable feat, but many think that the clubs time is up now. Ajax can get the advantage in this first leg against a Madrid side who have blown hot and cold this season. Prediction: Ajax 3-2 Real Madrid

The final game of this Champions League week will take place between Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund and the English club will need a good start if they are going to get to the last 8 against the Bundesliga leaders. Tottenham have shown some real resilience but there is a question mark over a team who have failed at Wembley time and again against the best teams in the Premier League. This could be a classic game sure to have a few goals in it. A draw could be on the cards. Prediction: Tottenham 2-2 Borussia Dortmund

Manchester United: Who should start against Paris Saint-Germain at Old Trafford?

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With the Premier League fixtures of the weekend now coming to an end, the main focus now turns to the exciting and thrilling Champions League matches, where Manchester United will be taking on Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the knockout stages. Potentially, if all the build-up and hype meets its true expectations, the tie could go on to be one of the best ties of the whole competition.

The main news at this moment of time is that Neymar will be missing both legs of the tie, as he suffered an ankle ligament injury a few weeks ago and is not expected to return to training until the middle of April. Not only that, the Ligue 1 leaders have had to release more injury issues today, stating that both Edinson Cavani and Thomas Meunier are unavailable for the match on Tuesday.

Focusing back on the Red Devils, it’s time to look at who has become really reliable under Solskajer and are expected to start in what is the side’s most important fixture of the season. The selections for the midfield and forward department would seem straightforward and very easy to complete, whilst the defence would be a questionable one as they can become inconsistent here and there.

It’s time we look at United’s best XI that should start against Paris Saint-Germain…

David De Gea and the backline

Starting with the main individual between the goalposts, it is a no brainer that David De Gea will be starting a huge match like this rather than the back-up options in Lee Grant or Sergio Romero. At the heart of defence, it should be a partnership of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, who are simply he best centre-backs within the squad and are the only ones capable of helping the team out on and off the ball.

Meanwhile, the full-back position can be covered by Ashley Young, Diogo Dalot or even Luke Shaw, three players that are capable of defending at a decent level whilst attacking when required. Given that the opposition will have the likes of Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler and Kylian Mbappe starting, it will be more than important to have the experienced ones in Shaw and Young as the full-backs.

David De Gea, Luke Shaw, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Ashley Young.

The consistent and dominant midfield

In the middle of the pitch, the usual midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba will be expected to carry out their duties on both sides of the pitch. This will have become clear and plain obvious over the last couple of weeks, especially with Marouane Fellaini leaving for China, whilst both Andreas Pereira and Fred have not been able to take their chances when provided.

Not long ago, Herrera and Matic were seen as two average and unconvincing midfielders under the managerial of Jose Mourinho, but are now regarded as the key pair in midfield that helps the side to defend in numbers and to retain possession of the ball effectively. On top of that, Pogba continues to control and dictate the side’s attack as well as produce the much needed goods in the final third of the pitch.

Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba.  

Pure movement and pace of the attacking trio

When Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford were rested on the bench ahead of the Fulham game, it was a clear indication that Solskjaer were giving the duo a well deserved break going into the Paris Saint-Germain fixture. The third and final player that should be completing the front three is none other than Anthony Martial, because he can amazingly produce something out of nothing and is really clinical in front of goal.

All three individuals have shown what they can do in attack, whether it’s through their intelligent movement off the ball or the way how they can dribble past two to three players within the matter of a few seconds. If they can start off the game at a quick pace and at a high tempo, then there should not be a problem at all of expecting two to three goals in the first leg at Old Trafford.

Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford.

Talking Points: Fulham 0-3 Manchester United

Manchester United made the best possible preparation for Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League knockout rounds with a comfortable win against Fulham.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has now, remarkably, won more games in the Premier League than his predecessor José Mourinho had. The Norwegian is making all the right impressions at the club and has once again delighted the fans with his brand of football.

Fulham have been a major disappointment after an immense £100 million investment last summer, preparing them for life in the Premier League. Instead of competing for a mid-table position, they are languishing down in 19th place.

The Red Devils will be inspired for their next match, which takes place at Old Trafford on Tuesday against PSG.

Paul Pogba masterclass

Paul Pogba’s resurgence under Solskjær has been well documented and his performance at Craven Cottage was indicative of the newfound form he has been in.

Two goals this time out, the France international has been a pioneering figure in United’s turnaround and will be tasked with doing similar against PSG in the midweek Champions League fixture.

Pogba has a total effortlessness attributed to his game whereby he makes everything he does look so simple. The way he dribbles past players with his impressive strides, bustling defenders off his shoulders, and picks the right pass at the right time shows what a world-class player he can be.

His consistency over the past 10 games has been sensational – which includes two performances against Arsenal and Tottenham from the top six – and fans will hope that this continues heading into a period of important matches for Manchester United. 

Anthony Martial’s dizzying footwork 

After just penning a new contract until 2024, it didn’t take long for Anthony Martial to see his name on the scoresheet. Just after the 20th minute mark, the Frenchman had recorded an assist as well as his dizzying goal.

Martial picked the ball up inside his own half and channelled his inner Cristiano Ronaldo. Dribbling past Fulham’s defenders with absolute ease, the left winger turned them inside and out and found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Sergio Rico in no time. Keeping his composure and cool in front of goal, Martial tucked it away in the far right-hand corner, leaving Rico with absolutely no chance of saving it.

The Frenchman now has nine Premier League goals in 20 appearances this season and will hope that he can add to his singular European goal on Tuesday night.

Ander Herrera controlled as ever 

Solskjær has lifted every player’s performance since taking over in late December, but perhaps none more so than Ander Herrera. The Spain international used to be one of Mourinho’s trusted lieutenants on the pitch, but for one reason or another, the manager begun to ostracise him from the first-team.

Herrera, having now rekindled his magic, has been one of the Red Devils’ most important players. Winning virtually all his battles in midfield, he is not only giving Pogba the freedom to move up the pitch, he is also contributing himself to United’s attacks. Whether that is lurking around the edge of the box or quickly releasing the forward players, Herrera has been a pivotal cog in United’s wheel.

PSG will come to Old Trafford with a game plan that is based around Marco Verratti’s time on the ball to dictate proceedings. Herrera’s job, as it usually is, will be to disrupt the Parisian’s distribution and stop it at source. The Spaniard will follow the Italian around the pitch, practically man-marking him and making sure he is not awarded the time nor space to play his game.

It is paramount for Manchester United to tie Herrera down to a new contract given his heart, desire and quality he has shown for the club over the years.

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Fulham 0-3 Manchester United: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men show the crucial consistency

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Manchester United had a big chance to enter the top four position for the first time since the start of the season, with their next fixture being away to Fulham, a side that have only won four league games and are in the relegation zone. With Chelsea and Manchester City facing one another on Sunday, it was important for the Red Devils to pick up the three points and in a secure manner.

Overall, United dominated the game from the first second of the match till the final whistle, where they could have even scored a further couple of goals to pile on the misery. Despite the early scares and nerve-wrecking moments, the visitors were allowed to attack in numbers and simply take their chances, which they did so as both Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba scored in the first 25 minutes.

Things went from bad to worse for the hosts in the second half, as the side’s positional awareness on and off the ball was something that you would truly witness from a Sunday league team. Not only that, manager Claudio Ranieri has been struggling to motivate and revive this Fulham side, otherwise they would be showing positive signs in recent weeks and would be climbing slowly up the table.

Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from Manchester United’s latest league game…

Changes to the side were effective in the end

When deciding who would start in the fixture against Fulham, Solskjaer was bound to keep one eye on the monumental Champions League fixture at home to Paris Saint-Germain, whilst choosing which players deserve a rest and which could do with some further game time. Due to this, the likes of Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Victor Lindelof were given a well deserved rest.

Meanwhile, individuals such as Chris Smalling, Diogo Dalot, Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku returned into the line-up, and went on to play a key role towards the side winning the three points. Although these four players may not be seen as good enough players to play regularly for Solskjaer, they still have a duty to complete when they are required from the bench or in the less relevant matches for the remainder of the season.

Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba continue with their brilliance

At this moment of time, it can easily be stated that both Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba are the club’s best outfield players, two individuals that are capable of producing something out of nothing and are able to help the side’s midfield and attack tick. When the pair are not in the starting line-up, the team’s style of football has a tendency to become slow on both sides of the pitch and painfully predictable.

With Martial signing a contract extension recently and Pogba reportedly expected to sign one once the season comes to an end, United have two serious Premier League beaters that they can build their team around for the next five years. Now, it all depends on who is the next permanent manager, because the Frenchman’s will not want another Jose Mourinho type of coach to come in to shamelessly limit and nullify them.

The Red Devils and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can now aim for a top four finish

At the beginning of December, the former manager in Jose Mourinho had publicly stated that it would be a miracle for the team to get into the top four as they sat 10 to 12 points behind the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea. Ten weeks later, under the managerial of interim coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United are just about sat in fourth-place and are also 14 points off the league leaders.

The race for the last spot in the top four will go down till the end of the season, where the full focus will be on Arsenal, Chelsea and United on a weekly basis. Also, if Tottenham do drop points in the upcoming matches, they could also fall into the race where third place and fourth place is up for grabs. In the end, if Solskjaer somehow leads Manchester United to a top four finish, he will surely get the job permanently.

When you invest in football at the right time & it pays off

Football is a strategy game and if you play your cards right you can keep your winning streak. Most clubs ensure that the managers and players just do that since it is a result-driven industry and business. With all the money that is at stake and all the investments made, no one can afford to let it go to waste.

But how do you put a winning strategy into place? Well, it encompasses more than just putting eleven men on a pitch. You have to think about the team's formation, select the right players for each game, make sure there is great chemistry within the team but also between the players and managers.

You make choices prior to starting the competition wishing it would just work fine. You select the best people available out there and aim for another successful season. Sometimes it does work perfectly and other times the contrary happens. And this is the time where you need to be smart and act fast if you want drastic changes. Being by acquiring new players or changing managers if needed.

We have seen it recently with the sacking of José Mourinho by Manchester United in mid-season. Following a bad start for the club, he has been replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer which has proven to be a successful decision. This type of change paid off in Premier League but some investments have been profitable in other European teams as well this season.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus is probably the most illustrating example. After 9 years with Real Madrid and more than 300 goals scored, he decided to take on a new challenge. In the 30 games he has played with the Bianconeri, he already scored 19 goals. The most notorious being the only goal against Milan allowing the team to win the Supercoppa final.

Another phenomenon of the Italian League is Krzysztof Piatek. The young Polish pistolero, is worth every penny the club spent during the winter transfer window. He replaced Gonzalo Higuaín that was not showing enough results for the club (8 goals in 22 games). It seems like the Argentine striker is doing a way better job at Chelsea where he already scored 2 goals in 3 games.

Piatek had already scored 19 goals for Genoa before his transfer. After only 3 games with his new club, he already showed tremendous skills and scored 3 goals. Not to mention that he scored twice for Milan against Napoli, a decisive win that sent them through the Coppa Italia semi-finals. According to Gattuso, Milan’s coach, he is a far better striker than Higuaín and the fans already adore him.

In the Bundesliga, Paco Alcácer is another impressive player. The Spanish striker had been loaned by Barcelona to Borussia Dortmund at the beginning of the season. He made a great debut with the club on top of securing decisive wins in his early games. Management was so impressed by his amazing performances that it decided to sign him on a permanent basis. So far he has scored 12 goals in 15 games.

In Monaco, there has been a lot of drama going on lately with the dismissal of Thierry Henry and the return of Leonardo Jardim. Cesc Fàbregas joined the club in mid-January and already illustrated himself. The player scored the winning goal for Monaco against Toulouse. This was his first one but an important one. This gives Monaco its first win in seven league games and allowed them to get out of the relegation zone.

These few examples show the importance of investing in the right people at the right time. If a team is not performing well then someone has to ring the alarm and make the necessary adjustments. When done properly it can have a huge positive impact on the team’s success.