Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has won each and every one of his first eight games in charge of Manchester United, but even more impressively is his ability to do so while returning the optics of the Manchester United glory days. After years of watching Jose Mourinho squads defend constantly and imperfectly, Red Devil fans are falling in love with watching Solskjaer’s team play – and, of course, win.
After the 3-1 FA Cup win over Arsenal, Solskjaer did himself even more favors, harkening back to the times of Sir Alex Ferguson, and making clear his intent to return the tactics to those times.
[ RECAP: Manchester United tops Arsenal 3-1 in FA Cup ]
“Today we looked more like a proper team,” Solskjaer said as part of his post-match comments. “We looked more structured. We had worked hard at defending and at counter-attacking.”
“That was classic Manchester United counter-attacking. There are so many examples of that against Arsenal – [Wayne] Rooney, [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Ji-Sung] Park and we showed them those videos.”
Just the image of Solskjaer showing the current squad videos of old Manchester United glory days is sure to get the fans excited, as many felt the identity of the club was robbed during the Mourinho days. The Norwegian even name dropped himself, harkening back to a goal he scored for the club against Arsenal back in his playing days.
“If you go through the history and the games against Arsenal, even I scored in ’97 after defending a corner kick, and everyone knows about the classic Champions League goal with Park, Rooney and Ronaldo.” The goal Solskjaer is referring to took place in February of their 96/97 title-winning season, with the Norwegian scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over the Gunners.
On Friday, Alexis Sanchez scored the opener against his former club on a fantastic pass from Romelu Lukaku right through the heart of the Arsenal defense, but it was United’s second and third goals that truly made Solskjaer happy. The second came just past the half-hour mark – much like Solskjaer’s against the Gunners referenced earlier – as Lukaku sprung free down the right when Laurent Koscielny failed to apply an offside trap properly. That began a sequence that finished with Jesse Lingard finishing with ease from the penalty spot on a three-on-two break. United’s third came just eight minutes from full-time as Paul Pogba snatched the ball in midfield and sprinted down the middle, and while his shot was saved by Petr Cech, Anthony Martial was there to gobble up the rebound and finish off the game.
Solskjaer knows that while Mourinho preached defending, his philosophy emphasized utilizing those defensive victories into offensive results. “[It was] a fantastic pass from Rom [for the opener], but the number two and three goals were classic Manchester United counter attacks,” Solskjaer said. “Started by defending properly.”
Manchester United is a club dripping in history, and fans expect the past to have an influence on the present. That can’t always be the case, but with a former player in charge, Solskjaer is proving that there’s nothing wrong with living in the past.