Nine wins out of ten games in charge is a very good record for any manager in the Premier League – and especially so if you consider the fact that Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s previous managerial record in the Premier League isn’t one you’d tell young managers to look at as an example of success. The players seem to be performing as individuals, the team seems to be playing better football – probably the best since Sir Alex left the club – and they have the results to match. The only bump on the road was a two-all draw with Burnley. Are Manchester United finally back from the dead?
On the surface it would definitely seem so. They’ve finally moved out of the sixth spot that they seemed to occupy almost eternally this season and have earned crucial wins over Tottenham and Arsenal during this unbeaten streak. They are winning games regularly, scoring goals regularly – Marcus Rashford is looking more and more like a real, classic centre-forward these days – and are managing to get wins even in games where they don’t look like the better team. That may be due to individual performances (David De Gea against Tottenham, for example) or inefficient opposition (Again, Spurs and their numerous chances at Wembley come to mind), but somehow they are getting the job done.
But, in my view, United’s revival is down to the players as well as him. Of course, he has adapted tactically, choosing a pacey front three for most of his games with Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard featuring heavily in it, and his full-backs – especially Luke Shaw – are playing with confidence. Paul Pogba looks like a wholly different player now, having been given more freedom to influence the game further forward than under Mourinho. And United don’t look invincible by any means – again, the Spurs game comes to mind. He is stylistically more Ferguson than Mourinho and even though he does tend to sit deep against teams that are maybe more talented than his own, it does not negate his attacking threat – which is the crucial difference between his and Jose’s way of playing.
But Ole is not the only one who’s gotten his act right. Paul Pogba, for example, is now putting more effort and energy into his game than he did before and he is getting the rewards for it with both assists and goals to his name. The atmosphere at the club isn’t as toxic anymore and there is a keen sense of ambition – both on and off the pitch – that was previously lacking under managers like Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal. And even though we have to wait till we see evidence of it in the summer transfer window, there is a feeling that United have realised their mistakes in the way they handled recruitment.
I am still on the fence as to whether this is just an extended honeymoon period or a semblance of real progress and will reserve my judgment until Solksjaer and United have gone through a few more games – especially the ones against their arch-rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, not to mention the summer window that will define where they stand and what their intentions are in the league.