The tepid football that characterised Jose Mourinho’s tenure at Manchester United seems almost like a distant memory after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recorded his sixth straight victory since taking over. Interestingly, no other United manager has ever won their first six games on the trot, so what exactly is it that the Norwegian has changed to create this incredible turnaround?
Back to Basics
United seem to have simplified their football substantially since Mourinho’s departure. Before Solskjaer’s arrival, their attacking build up seemed unusually laboured and delayed, often when obvious forward passes were available – but few players had the courage to make them. Now, though, if a simple forward pass available, more often than not, the man on the ball will play it forward, which has lent a much more fluid edge to their attack.
Mobility in Attack
Modern football is characterised by highly mobile and quick attacking players. Mourinho’s preference for an attack that centred around a physically imposing #9 (in this case, Romelu Lukaku) meant that United’s attacks were often dreary and slow, giving opponents ample time to regroup and close any gaps in their defence. By using the combination of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Jesse Lingard, Solskjaer has leveraged the youth and speed of those players to overrun opposing defences, and often defenders are simply caught unawares by the pace of the attack.
Players Played in Position
Mourinho had a bit of a fondness for moving players from their natural positions into others. The the most prominent example being his use of Paul Pogba as a defensive midfielder – rather than a free roaming midfielder whose focus is on attacking, which is what earned him his fame at Juventus. Players are simply being put in positions where the bulk of their contribution is in areas they excel at, and the lack of square pegs in round holes means United’s players are feeling more comfortable on the ball.
An Abundance of Positivity
This might seem like an odd thing to comment on, but judging from the turnaround in United’s play, the lifting of the negative cloud that followed Mourinho around has been immensely beneficial. Mourinho’s negativity and persistent public criticism of his players had obvious effects on the players’ performances, and likely their willingness to give 100% for him. Solskjaer has avoided any criticism of his players, and appears simply to be trying to rekindle United’s atmosphere under Sir Alex Ferguson, which was one of confidence and belief.
Proactive rather than Reactive
A significant component of Mourinho’s approach to football is to focus on neutralising the dangerous players on the opponent’s team. Often this tendency to focus so heavily on what an opponent is capable of made it seem like United were playing simply to not lose, rather than chasing a win. The opposite has become true under Solskjaer, though. Instead of focusing too heavily on how the opponent can hurt United’s defence, the team seems focused on using their possession to pile attacking pressure on the opposing defence as much as possible. As the old expression goes; ‘the best defence is a good offence’, and most importantly, it’s giving United fans far more exciting football to watch.
Solskjaer’s entrance as United manager has been so impressive that there are already calls to announce him as the permanent manager, rather than simply the six-month caretaker. He’s passed his first difficult test by getting the better of Spurs, but in all likelihood, he’ll need some more good results against other top 6 sides before the United board consider him a legitimate option.
Is Solskjaer the real deal, potentially United’s version of what Zidane was for Real Madrid, or is this simply beginners luck that hasn’t run out yet? Let us know your thoughts below or on Facebook or Twitter!