Is Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bringing the good times back to Old Trafford?


When Manchester United first looked as though they were edging towards ending their 26-year title drought in 1993, their superstitious fans refused to jeopardise it by singing songs about winning the league.

There are no fans at Old Trafford – or anywhere else in the Premier League for that matter – at present. But almost three decades on it is not hard to imagine the same emotions taking hold if there were supporters in the stands.

For United and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, derided, ridiculed and lambasted for the majority of his two years in charge, have got themselves into position of contention, almost when no-one was looking.

Friday’s 2-1 victory against Aston Villa took them level with old rivals Liverpool at the top of the Premier League. Apart from the opening weekend of the 2016-17 campaign, that situation has not existed since 2009.

It has created the mouth-watering prospect of a rare meeting between England’s two biggest and most successful clubs at Anfield on 17 January, when both can dream of title glory.

Beating a much-improved Villa took United’s current unbeaten run in the Premier League to 10 games. Eight of those games have been victories.

The only time United have been on a run of that length, with so many wins, since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 was when Solskjaer first took charge.

Yet it is worth noting that in every single title-winning season under the man who watched these proceedings unfold from his customary seat in the directors’ box, United put exactly that kind of sequence together, usually longer and sometimes more than once.

Premier League table graphic
Manchester United and Liverpool sit level on points at the top of the table after 16 games

This was a tense affair. You wouldn’t have known it from Solskjaer’s demeanour.

When David de Gea plunged to his right to turn away Matty Cash’s injury-time strike and even later when Eric Bailly flung himself in the way of Keinan Davis’ goal-bound shot, Solskjaer remained the same, hands stuffed deep into the pockets of a jacket zipped right up to cover his mouth.

But those were big moments in a big win. You could tell that by the way three of Solskjaer’s coaches nervously paced the technical area as those five minutes of injury time ticked by and goalkeeping chief Richard Hartis bellowed “calm” at the United players, when it was clear he was feeling anything but.

Then there was the way Bailly’s team-mates leapt on him at the final whistle, jubilant at the Ivorian for putting his body on the line in the collective cause.

“There’s a reason for the colour of my hair,” said Solskjaer afterwards, his grey top clearly visible. “We should have played the game out better but we like to do it the hard way.”

It was not a surprise Bruno Fernandes was the match-winner. In 30 Premier League appearances since his arrival last January transformed United’s fortunes, his penalty was the Portuguese’s 33rd goal involvement.

For months it seemed Fernandes was carrying Solskjaer’s team.

But it does go deeper. Their squad has a depth few can match. In this of all seasons, that could prove vital. Edinson Cavani was not involved after starting a three-game ban but, as with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial – United’s other goalscorer against Villa – De Gea and Bailly, the Uruguyan has made vital, unrecognised, contributions.


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