LONDON — For most of the second half of a big win for Manchester United at Tottenham, the away fans sung Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s name loud and proud.
After an extremely tough week, Solskjaer’s United side put in a display to make him proud.
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Superstars Edinson Cavani, Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Bruno Fernandes didn’t quite save Solskjaer his job. But following the 5-0 hammering at home to Liverpool last weekend, this felt like a huge moment for Solskjaer.
The way he punched the air after every goal and looked in the eyes of the supporters, you got the sense that Solskjaer tried to keep his cool as much as possible.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Solskjaer thanked the supporters and hit back at local journalists who he said had painted a picture of discontent around his reign.
United’s superstars deliver for bullish Solskjaer
“The most important thing is that the fans, the players and me, that we connect together,” Solskjaer said. “It is hard to be sitting as your local journalist then to write about your own fans singing for your manager… That is just a dig at someone who has been wanting to portray a different story. But these fans are brilliant.”
From Bruno Fernandes’ silky assists for Cristiano Ronaldo’s sublime volley for the opener, and Bruno, Ronaldo and Cavani combining to set up the latter for a second, this was a day where United’s class shone through to move them up to fifth in the table.
Especially from their strike force which had a combined age of 70.
Cavani, Ronaldo ‘two peas in a pod’
It was the forward duo of Ronaldo, 36, and Cavani, 34, who truly stepped up. Their goals, hunger and killer instinct was the difference. Solskjaer has certainly stumbled upon a fine plan to help get Manchester United moving in the right direction again.
“They are fit lads. Their experience came through today. I thought both of them have led the line really well this week. All week. From training Tuesday morning until tonight. It is something we might do later. We might do next game. It is something that worked tonight, that’s for sure,” Solskjaer said.
“Tuesday morning’s training session by Edinson Cavani, it is probably the best I’ve seen by an individual since I’ve come here. He led the line and was a good example for everyone on how to go about changing the mood, changing the performance. The two of them were told early on they were going to play up front as a two and they’ve been like two peas in a pod. They’ve been really close and it worked today. Two excellent goals from the two of them.”
True, they were playing a Tottenham side which is in a rut and were under extreme pressure after plenty of recent defeats, but the way United won was impressive.
From Raphael Varane’s masterful display keeping Harry Kane quiet and marshalling a back three to Scott McTominay and Fred dominating midfield, there was plenty to please Solskjaer.
But, in the end, it was United’s ability to sign genuine superstar talents which dug Solskjaer out of a significant hole. Once again.
Back to basics
Nobody was really surprised when Solskjaer when to a back three and set up United to be tough to break down and dangerous on the counter.
Manchester United looked solid and comfortable, aside from the occasional Heung-min Son run, and this formation suits them. Especially with Cavani and Ronaldo up top.
“There were many things behind the tactics that we used today but one of course is solidity,” Solskjaer said. “We managed to get Raphael [Varane] put him smack bang in the middle of that back four. We needed a clean sheet. We needed to control the game with the ball. We got Edinson and Ronaldo to play together as a front two. We got the width as a the wing backs. Today we felt that worked and it was going to work. Of course, you can change to a back three and you don’t get the result and you get scrutinized. We felt it worked. The coaches have done a very, very good job to put that in place.”
Solskjaer looks ahead
With so many reports about his future, other managers coming in and unrest at the club, even among his playing squad, this has been the toughest week since Solskjaer took charge of Manchester United almost three years ago.
Asked about that, the United legend preached togetherness and staying away from the noise.
“It’s been a difficult week for the players, the club, the fans, for me,” Solskjaer said. “I’ve stayed away from most of the noise but you know what’s happening out there and you need to put a performance in. Every time you lose it’s the worst feeling in the world as a coach, manager or player. You just want the next game to come. We needed this week. We needed a whole week to work on this performance. It was probably the last time for a while we have one week to work. It was an important one to work on fitness, mentality and we changed the tactics so it’s always nice to have four days to do that.”
With a huge UEFA Champions League game at Atalanta in midweek and then the small matter of a Manchester derby against Manchester City at Old Trafford next weekend, the big games keep coming for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Let’s see if his superstars can deliver. And, most importantly, keep fighting for him.