Three things we learned: Tottenham v. Man United (highlights)

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LONDON — Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Wembley top keep Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s perfect record intact and all but end Spurs’ faint hopes of winning the Premier League title this season.

[ MORE: Solskjaer, Pochettino react

Marcus Rashford struck in the first half to win it, as United are just six points off the top four and have won six on the trot in all competitions since Jose Mourinho left.

[ MORE: Kane injured? ]

This was by far the biggest test for Solskjaer and he had David De Gea to thank for the win. The Spaniard denied Harry Kane and Dele Alli on multiple occasions after a Spurs onslaught in the second half.

Here’s what we learned from a pulsating clash.


RASHFORD, POGBA KEY TO UNITED’S REVIVAL

United’s first goal summed up exactly what has changed at the club since Solskjaer arrived and Jose Mourinho departed. Paul Pogba played a long, inch-perfect pass and Marcus Rashford (solely used as a center forward by Mourinho) raced onto it and finished superbly across goal. The simplicity of United’s play is clear for all to see as Solskjaer has stripped them back to basics and allowed Pogba, Rashford, Martial and Lingard the freedom to attack whenever they see fit. Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic shielded the back four superbly and they had a solid back four. It really isn’t that difficult. Rashford has been superb under Solskjaer, scoring four goals in his five PL games in charge and he’s now been involved in 10 goals in his last nine PL games (five goals, five assists). This was the first time in his career he’s scored in three-straight league games and the local lad has clearly benefitted from spending some time with a predatory finisher like Solskjaer on the training ground. It is looking more absurd by the week that Mourinho didn’t play Rashford centrally and failed to give Pogba the freedom to be a no. 10.


SOLSKJAER BEATS POCHETTINO IN PUBLIC JOB INTERVIEW

After this enthralling end-to-end encounter Ed Woodward’s finger will be hovering over and between two names on the contact list on his phone: “Mauricio. Ole. Mauricio. Ole. Hmmm..”

Both Solskjaer and Pochettino will have come out of this gripping, committed with credit to prove that they can set up teams to attack, entertain and have the quality to at least be in the top four. The sample size of five wins his first five Premier League games is too small to say Solskajer should be United’s preferred choice as their long-term manager, but there’s no doubt this was a huge feather in his cap if he’s going to get the job on a full-time basis when his caretaker role ends in May. There were obvious defensive flaws for United which David de Gea’s brilliance covered up (more on that below), but the way Solskjaer has instantaneously returned swagger to United’s attack, midfield and pretty much their entire team is remarkable. He is a born winner, someone who knows the club inside out and would probably manage United for a fraction of the salary Pochettino would demand. He matched Sir Matt Busby’s United record of winning his first five league games in charge and Solskjaer can do no wrong. In a very public job interview he got the better of Pochettino, as the latter was let down by his slack strikers.


TOTTENHAM SUCCUMB TO DE GEA’S BRILLIANCE

There is no shame on holding your hands up and saying it is not your day. Tottenham had to do that Sunday. David de Gea produced four superb saves in the second half alone as the Spaniard stood tall to deny Harry Kane and Dele Alli twice when it seemed improbably they would be denied. De Gea’s sublime form has been the one constant through United’s struggles in the post-Ferguson era and he put on a clinic in the second half with save after save with his feet to leave Kane looking to the heavens in disbelief. Those who remember the Ferguson era so fondly are perhaps easy to forget the big saves Peter Schmeichel made time and time again.

De Gea will need to carry on this form until the end of the season if United are to sneak their way into the top four.

After a wobble over the summer with Spain, there is no doubt he is back to his best. From his foot saves to standing tall to putting Spurs’ strikers off at key moments, De Gea was the real reason United won at Wembley.

Premier League Roundup: Chelsea-Bayern negotiations at a standstill, Blues offer Morata, and more

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Negotiations between Chelsea and Bayern Munich are reportedly at a standstill over a transfer clause.

As Bayern Munich continues to push to sign young English winger Callum Hudson-Odoi, Chelsea has insisted that the transfer agreement include a buy-back clause, according to The Times of London. Hudson-Odoi, possibly seeing the path to the first team at Chelsea blocked by veteran players, has reportedly decided his development would do best in Germany, even at the biggest club in the nation.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

The report states that Chelsea has requested the buy-back clause after missing out on Romelu Lukaku and having to pay well above market value for Nemanja Matic. This clause could have helped Chelsea also bring back players like Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne after both of them left Chelsea on transfers.

At this point, with all the pressure from Bayern and Hudson-Odoi, Chelsea will eventually agree on a deal. It’s just a matter of it coming for a deal in the summer, or whether the star young English winger will leave this month.

Here are some more notes from around the Premier League:

(more…)

Herrera says Solskjaer tactics free ‘magic’ Pogba

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Paul Pogba has come alive since Manchester United let Jose Mourinho and instituted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager, scoring four goals in four matches in a collection of spectacular performances.

Fellow Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera has hinted that Pogba’s explosion under Solskjaer is due to the new boss’s tactics that specifically revolve around the Frenchman, with the other midfielders playing a supporting role.

“I think Nemanja Matic and me, and the other players, we have to help him to make him feel free and that’s what we’re doing,” Herrera said prior to Manchester United’s FA Cup match against Reading on Saturday. “When he is in the opponent’s half he has that magic to change the game, so we are really happy for him.”

That may not be intended as a thinly veiled shot at Mourinho, but it is easy to be digested as one. Mourinho was often criticized for shackling Pogba in his tactical layout, forcing the 25-year-old to stay home and defend, robbing him of his brilliance up front. Under Mourinho, Pogba appeared frustrated with his role and his off-the-field clashes with the Portuguese boss were made quite public. Now, it seems Pogba has been made the central figure in the attacking build-up, completing an enormous 300 of an attempted 352 passes in the four matches since Mourinho’s dismissal, good for an 85% pass completion rate.

Herrera then suggested that because he is happier on and off the field, Pogba is now much more willing to contribute defensively when needed, rather than it being his exclusive job under Mourinho.

“He is very important for the club – on the pitch and off the pitch as well,” Herrera said. “He’s playing really, really well. Not only with the ball. I think as soon as we lose the ball he is ready to defend, ready to help the team. He is playing very simple and effective in our half.”

The good form from Manchester United under Solskjaer – albeit against Newcastle, Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City, and Bournemouth – has seen the Red Devils jump to 38 points, just three back of fifth-placed Arsenal and six behind Chelsea in the final Champions League spot. Manchester United next visits Spurs in Premier League play before hosting Brighton & Hove Albion and Burnley.

Emotional Solskjaer hails Pogba: “He is happy now”

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Paul Pogba scored twice for Manchester United on Boxing Day as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is making this managerial lark all seem rather easy…

United’s caretaker manager has now won two games from two in the Premier League, scoring eight goals and conceding two.

[ MORE: Man City lose at Leicester

Solskjaer’s side did give up some big chances to Huddersfield at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, but United were in second gear for most of the game and two moments of quality from Pogba in the second half (plus a world-class save from David De Gea) swung the game in their favor.

“Dave’s [de Gea] save was the defining moment, one of the best saves I’ve seen. I could see it going top corner and he stretches his second arm out,” Solskjaer said. “Paul [Pogba] knows he can score more goals and create chances. He had a few assists last week. He’s happy now… I was very pleased for him and the whole team. He loves football and has a big smile. That’s the Paul I have known since he was in the reserves and youth team. He’s always been a happy boy, a big smile on his face and when you score two you’re happy. It’s a response and Paul loves playing for this club. He’s a Manchester United boy through and through and knows what it means to play for the club.”

That last line will be music to the ears of United’s fans.

We all know the quality Pogba has in his locker, but it was clear he had clashed with Jose Mourinho ever since they both arrived at Old Trafford in the summer of 2016 and United’s former manager had failed to get the best out of the central midfielder.

As a teenager Pogba played for Solskjaer when he was the reserve team coach of United, and it appears the Norwegian is getting the best out of him once again. His two goals were superb finishes, and the second a wonderful effort into the bottom corner from over 25 yards out.

Discussing his return to Old Trafford (this time as manager) with the BBC after the game, Solskjaer lauded the incredible ovation he received. It left him feeling emotional as one of the most legendary goalscorers in United’s history hailed the fans.

“I’ve not got used to it yet. It’s humbling knowing I’m leading this team out. Let’s see if I get used to it. I captained a couple of games but this was very different,” Solskjaer said. “They are the best fans in the world. I had such a great relationship with them. It was probably more emotional for my family in my box as I was focussed on the game. I was surprisingly calm all day. The lads have helped me settle in really quickly.”

Next up for United is a home game against Bournemouth on Sunday and then a trip to Newcastle on Jan. 2. They are edging their way back into the conversation for a top four finish, and although they have beaten two struggling teams, the way they’ve beaten them points towards better times ahead between now and May when Solskjaer’s caretaker role ends.

The way United are attacking and playing without any fear, who says Solskjaer isn’t the right man to lead them back in the top four this season and then even more beyond that?

For now, nobody at Old Trafford is getting too ahead of themselves. They are just happy, like Pogba, to be able to express themselves and win games.

“It was important to win at our stadium, to bring a smile on the face of our supporters,” Nemanja Matic, who scored the first goal, added. “We made some mistakes. We need to see what we can do better. It’s a completely different atmosphere when you win games. This club doesn’t accept drawing or losing a game. This is the way we have to try to win the next one.”

With Solskjaer in charge and Mourinho gone, United have plenty of momentum and have already pushed their way back into the top four picture.

He also revealed that Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial are all in the running to return for their upcoming festive games.

Not a bad front three to come in and knock on the door. It will be great to get them back. Maybe we’ll change the front three,” Solskjaer said.

Man United win again, ease by Huddersfield

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  • Two wins from two for Solskjaer
  • Matic, Pogba score
  • Six-straight defeats for Huddersfield

Manchester United beat Huddersfield Town 3-1 on Boxing Day at Old Trafford, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made it two wins from two as United’s caretaker manager.

Nemanja Matic put United 1-0 up and Paul Pogba scored twice in the second half to ease United to victory. Mathias Jorgensen pulled a goal back for Huddersfield late on, but David Wagner‘s men are now bottom of the table after six-straight defeats.

With the win United now have 32 points, while Huddersfield have 10.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Huddersfield had a great chance to take the lead as a long throw into the box caused mayhem but Terrence Kongolo smashed the ball over the bar fro just six yards out.

United started to pour forward ahead of half time and that pressure eventually pay dividends.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

A corner from the left was flicked on by Victor Lindelof and Matic was on hand to tap home and score the first home goal of Solskjaer’s reign.

United should have doubled their lead before the break as Rashford did superbly to nutmeg a defender and cross to the back post, but Diogo Dalot put his effort wide with the goal gaping. Rashford then lashed an effort wide of the far post as United cranked through the gears.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ] 

Huddersfield had a few chances at the start of the second half as Laurent Depoitre, Issac Mbenza and Elias Kachunga all went close. Solskjaer brought on Ander Herrera and Ashley Young for Fred and Dalot in the second half as he tried to kick United back into life, but Huddersfield went close again. Depoitre flicked an effort goalwards from a corner but David De Gea produced a magnificent save as the away side continued to threaten.

But Pogba then delivered two moments of quality as he first finished off after great work from Juan Mata and Ander Herrera, and then drilled a shot in from distance for his second and United’s third of the game. Game over.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Huddersfield grabbed a consolation late on as Steve Mounie flicked the ball to Jorgensen to score, but in truth United barely got out of second gear as Solskjaer celebrated a win in his first home game in charge of the Red Devils on a caretaker basis.