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Can Solskjaer succeed long-term at Manchester United?

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has Manchester United fans over the moon, and he’s earned the permanent job earlier than anticipated as a result. Yet the club still has a long way to go to return to the heights of old, and while many have tabbed the results of the past three months as a sign of things to come, there are still plenty of unknowns as the 2018/19 season heads down the home stretch.

The decision to officially hand Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the keys to Manchester United was essentially a foregone conclusion given the immediate and spectacular turnaround of the club in the wake of Jose Mourinho’s departure. Few have passed a trial phase with such flying colors as the Norwegian, masterminding the first six-game league winning streak in club history to start a managerial career. Yet somehow, despite all the fanfare and accolades, the timing of the announcement still comes with a twinge of perplexity.

[ MORE: Official Solskjaer announcement ]

Solskjaer is in the midst of his first losing streak as manager, falling 2-0 to Arsenal in a vitally critical game that saw the club fall back out of the top four, before dropping 2-1 to Wolves in the FA Cup quarterfinals. With those two losses, the honeymoon phase is finally over for the Norwegian, and yet Manchester United didn’t wait to find out how he and the club respond to their first true bout with adversity together.

Manchester United still has plenty of business to take care of this season as the campaign rockets towards the finish line. With his first Manchester derby plus a date with Chelsea and a rematch against Wolves all still left on the docket, not only does Solskjaer have plenty still to prove but Manchester United still sits outside the Premier League’s top four, the loss to Arsenal a major setback in the quest for a Champions League place. There’s also still this season’s Champions League to take care of, with the high from the PSG comeback quickly drowned out by a quarterfinal draw against runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona. An exit against the Spanish giants would be a blast of cold air to the face, a reminder that this season still potentially leaves so much on the table.

[ MORE: Bayern sets Bundesliga transfer record with Hernandez ]

Ultimately, Solskjaer’s time in charge has been about calming the Mourinho chaos. He’s successfully quieted the noise around the Old Trafford locker room, made sound tactical decisions and adjustments on the pitch, and brought a friendly smile back to the postgame interview room. He’s reignited the spark in the club’s best players like Paul Pogba, a fatal flaw of Mourinho’s time in charge. He’s rekindled the club’s feeling of pride in its past and stature in the English game, something the three previous post-Sir Alex managers had critically let slip. He’s steered the ship like he has nothing to lose, an accurate approach given he took over with the Red Devils seemingly out of league contention and barreling aimlessly towards Premier League obscurity under his predecessor. Suddenly, that no longer seems the case, and with hope comes expectation. Should the Red Devils fall short on all fronts, nobody would blame Solskjaer for the club coming up empty, but there would be an empty feeling given the serious return of the chase.

At the time Solskjaer was named caretaker manager in December, the club stated he would remain in charge until the summer when a decision on a permanent replacement for Mourinho would be made. That stake in the ground gave the Red Devils a free pass through to the summer, with the club able to point back to its original announcement even in the face of increasing pressure to make a decision. Instead, Ed Woodward chose to change course and end the speculation early to put Ole at the wheel. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with confirming a decision many felt was overdue, it’s nonetheless a true statement of intent, one Woodward must own if it ultimately proves to be rash.

Bundesliga wrap: Dortmund, Hertha, Hoffenheim win

Bundesliga results
Photo by PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP via Getty Images
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Day two of the Bundesliga season saw very little drop-off from Friday’s opening day, when champions Bayern Munich hung eight goals on Schalke.

Five of six games saw a winner score three or more goals on Saturday, with a 1-1 draw the lone “low-scoring” affair in Germany.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season preview ]

The day was headlined by two impressive and dominant showings, one headlined by a 17-year-old American.


Borussia Dortmund 3-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

The season’s first match-up of top-four contenders saw USMNT teenager Giovanni Reyna score the game’s first goal and draw the penalty that Erling Haaland converted to give BVB breathing room at home.

Reyna’s goal was assisted by English teen Jude Bellingham, and fellow UK export Jado Sancho set up Haaland’s second of the day in the 77th minute as Dortmund took advantage of their chances on a day Gladbach started with Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea on the bench.

Reyna started at attacking midfield underneath Haaland and Sancho. He finished with 100 percent passing over 78 minutes, drawing three fouls, registering a key pass, and winning an atypical 3-of-9 duels.

Here’s Reyna, from BVB.de:

“It was a very good start to the season,” Reyna said. “We have a lot of young players, it’s really enjoyable. We all have so much energy, but we need to keep working, we need to improve even more. We were so happy to see that some of our fans could be there again. That’s very important for us as players.”

Here’s the one goal that didn’t feature Reyna.

Werder Bremen 1-4 Hertha Berlin

Those of us who went out on a limb and said Hertha Berlin could be a surprise team in 2020-21 were validated for a day by the visitors to the Weserstadion.

Dodi Lukebakio and Matheus Cunha both scored, Vladimir Darida had two assists, and Peter Pekarik joined Jhon Cordoba on the score sheet for the away side.

Hertha produced five big chances and conceded little to Bremen, who scored via Davie Selke in the 69th minute.

USMNT forward Josh Sargent played further back from the front line in an advanced midfield or wing role. He had a key pass, two tackles, an interception, and a clearance. He won only four of 10 duels and completed half of his passes on a 33-touch day.

Koln 2-3 Hoffeheim

Leicester City knew what it was doing when it signed Andrej Kramaric in 2015, but the spoils have all been seen in the Bundesliga.

Kramaric gave Hoffenheim 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 leads on Saturday in Cologne, overcoming home equalizers from Sebastian Andersson and Dominic Drexler.

The 29-year-old Kramaric now has five goals in two outings this season to give him 75 goals and 30 assists in 152 appearances for Hoffenheim.

He’s good.


Elsewhere

Bayern Munich 8-0 Schalke — Friday
Union Berlin 1-3 Augsburg
Stuttgart 2-3 Freiburg
Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Arminia Bielefeld
RB Leipzig v. Mainz — 9:30 am ET Sunday
Wolfsburg v Bayer Leverkusen — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 1 1 0 0 8 0 8 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Hertha BSC 1 1 0 0 4 1 3 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Borussia Dortmund 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Augsburg 1 1 0 0 3 1 2 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Freiburg 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Hoffenheim 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Arminia Bielefeld 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1
 Eintracht Frankfurt 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1
 Bayer Leverkusen 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Mainz 05 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 RB Leipzig 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Wolfsburg 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 1. FC Köln 1 0 0 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Stuttgart 1 0 0 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Union Berlin 1 0 0 1 1 3 -2 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Werder Bremen 1 0 0 1 1 4 -3 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Mönchengladbach 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Schalke 04 1 0 0 1 0 8 -8 0-0-0 0-0-1 0

Special Ceballos keys Arsenal win over West Ham

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Arsenal – West Ham: It takes special moments to beat dedicated, packed-in back lines, and Arsenal found a pair in a 2-1 win over improved West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette scored goals off classy team goals, as Dani Ceballos drove the Gunners to a 2-0 start and sent West Ham to 0-2.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA

Up next for the Gunners: a trip to Liverpool.

West Ham will host Wolves next, buoyed perhaps by the improvement shown from a Week 1 loss to Newcastle.


3 things we learned from Arsenal – West Ham

1. Arteta’s magic touch springs winner: Lacazette got the start and scored but Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was not afraid to take off the goal scorer and replace him with… a goal scorer. Nketiah ran into the heart of the box to be available for Dani Ceballos’ cutback of Bukayo Saka’s through ball and the Gunners fought through the congested 5-4-1 for a 2-1 win.

2. Steely lineup (kinda) works for Moyes: A week after leaving Sebastien Haller, Felipe Anderson, and Andriy Yarmolenko on the bench against Newcastle — and seeing Haller look strong in the League Cup — David Moyes again opted for a bit more steel and a lot more defending. Moyes’ men were set to counter in a 5-4-1 and they really limited Arsenal’s attack. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was kept from the danger areas apart from his assist, and it took a real touch of class in possession and movement for the Gunners to find their winner.

That said, Arsenal was a bit open at the back and was forced into playing Sead Kolasinac when Kieran Tierney pulled up with an injury before the game. Might Anderson and Yarmolenko have been able to produce a second goal?

Arsenal - West Ham
West Ham United’s Michail Antonio (right) and Arsenal’s Gabriel Magalhaes (Photo by Will Oliver/PA Images via Getty Images)

3. Super Ceballos: His assist came from a great run and the appropriate final ball to Nketiah, but the Real Madrid loanee was exactly what Arteta needed on a day the Gunners were treated much like Man City was when the manager helped Pep Guardiola and Co. find its way through a packed-in group of defenders.

For his stat line, see “Man of the Match” below.

Man of the Match

Ceballos had 119 touches and completed 90-of-98 passes. He won 8-of-12 duels and collected three tackles, three interceptions, three clearances, and two blocked shots. A complete performance.


Arsenal – West Ham recap

Angelo Ogbonna had the first chance of the game but Declan Rice’s headed flick didn’t have enough power for the defender to head past Bernd Leno.

The Gunners soon asserted themselves on the game and Aubameyang put it on a tee for Lacazetteto head home and provide a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute.

West Ham tied it when Antonio got in front of Rob Holding to tap Ryan Fredericks cross home after great work from Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Arthur Masuaku’s dangerous cross looked set to give West Ham a shock lead early in the second but Antonio couldn’t meet it cleanly and Leno cleaned up the mess.

Arsenal sprung a counter to earn a corner but a foul foiled the Gunners.

Willian was lively but was taken off in the 65th minute for Nicolas Pepe, a nice change for a manager to have in his locker.

Antonio popped a header off the bar in the 67th with West Ham in search of all three points.

Eddie Nketiah replaced Lacazette in the 77th.

The Irons were focused on stifling Arsenal and stayed well-drilled as the game reached its final 10 minutes.

Solskjaer reacts to Manchester United loss to Palace, transfer market

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Ole Gunnar Solksjaer knows his Manchester United team wasn’t good enough in Saturday’s 3-1 home loss to Crystal Palace.

He also thinks the club needs to add some players in the transfer market.

[ MORE: Van de Beek deems loss “really bad” ]

“You can see we are short and they deserved the points,” Solskjaer said after the game. They were sharper than us in challenges, tackles. We started off slowly and that had a knock-on effect for the rest of the game when they got the first goal. We had a long season last season and we didn’t finish until August 16 and we have not had enough preparation time to be sharper. We’ve worked hard with the ones who’ve been here, there have been a few players away on internationals.”

Sure, that’s true, but Solskjaer should know those excuses wouldn’t be afforded to Liverpool or Man City, clubs he’s trying to reach, and so they aren’t adequate now.

Whether the club needs to buy some better talent or not, few will argue that United doesn’t have the ammunition to stick with Palace at home. Juan Mata wasn’t in the 18 and probably would start for at least half of the Premier League’s clubs.

But Solskjaer’s men were wobbled, especially at the back, and the Norwegian manager left big buys Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Donny van de Beek on the bench. The latter came off the bench to score United’s lone goal.

The Red Devils have spent plenty on players — yes, even under Solskjaer — and did get a very good performance out of Bruno Fernandes that was wasted by out-of-sorts Daniel James, Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford.

“We will improve quickly, hopefully quicker than we’ve seen today,” Solskjaer said. “Today was a performance that you don’t see very often from these players because these players are better than that.”

As for transfers?

“We are always looking to improve if there is something out there that is available at the right price. We always want to strengthen. But we can all look ourselves in the mirror, instead.”

Manchester United’s Van de Beek: “We lost 3-1 at home, that’s really bad”

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Donny van de Beek scored off the bench for his Manchester United debut, but it didn’t mean that much coming in a troubling 3-1 home loss to Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Van de Beek came on for Paul Pogba with United down 1-0 and quickly saw his side dip two goals down on a controversial penalty.

[ RECAP: Man United 1-3 Crystal Palace ]

The former Ajax midfielder then snapped a reaction shot inside the far post to pull United within 2-1, but finished the day with not much more than the goal in 23 minutes. Van de Beek was credited with 30 touches, a tackle, and 18-of-23 passing.

“First match for the club, a day you want to win,” Van de Beek said to Manchester United TV. “It doesn’t matter how, you want to win and I’m really disappointed that we lost 3-1 at home, that’s really bad. In the week of training we did really well, we trained good so my feeling was really positive. But today we played too slowly, too long with the ball and I think against an opponent like Crystal Palace you need to speed up the game to create something. That was not good enough.”

It may take Solskjaer some time to get his best XI in order and the Red Devils were playing a Palace team with a PL match and League Cup outing under their belt. Still, the performance was poor and Van de Beek may find himself starting soon.