The single most important factor in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer becoming the first top-flight manager since the league’s formation in 1888 to win their first five matches in charge by at least a two-goal margin is the swiftness with which the Manchester United caretaker manager has healed the wounds left by Jose Mourinho’s rein at the club.
Marcus Rashford, with three goals in five appearances, is perhaps the most indicative case in point. The forward is playing with a freedom and encouragement scarcely afforded to him by his previous manager and his showings to date are typical of a player in whom a deserved confidence has been bred.
The same can be said of Paul Pogba, of course, who has finally been allowed to display the swagger of a player to whom France owe a great deal for their World Cup triumph in Russia.
The pair have scored or assisted 14 of the 16 goals netted on Solskjaer’s watch to date and the fact that both players were castigated by Mourinho during the latter stages of his United tenure serves as a timely reminder of the embarrassment of riches that came to be neglected as a consequence of Mourinho’s negative approach from the Old Trafford touchline.
Solskjaer, it is worth remembering, has had less than a month to tap into the full extent of his squad’s ability and you would hope, on the evidence of his work to date, that his magic touch will have the desired effect on the more maligned players available to him.
The Reds will attack the second half of the season on three fronts and the Champions League round-of-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain feels far less daunting with Solskjaer at the helm, but the body of work his side will have to go through to ensure this season is not remembered as a disaster is considerable.
For that, Solskjaer and his trusted lieutenants will have to ensure that each member of the squad is able to contribute, and contribute well.
Fred, the £52million summer acquisition, has looked a long chalk off the player who prompted a tug-of-war between United and Manchester City for his services last summer and the clock is already beginning to tick on his allotted time to adapt to the pace of the Premier League.
It is a shame on a professional level, then, that the Brazil international has had to miss the first team’s four-day training camp in Dubai to be with his expecting wife.
Scott McTominay is another who has flattered to deceive this season, but the Scotland international’s case is a special one that merits further consideration before the academy graduate is cast off as a failure.
Was McTominay, a striker for United’s reserves, really in a position to deputise for Pogba in United’s midfield during the hotter times of Mourinho’s battle with the Reds’ record signing last season? Was it really necessary for Mourinho to give the 22-year-old his manager’s player of the year award at the end of the campaign for performances that were reasonable, at best?
In short, it smacked of a veiled dig at Pogba and fell in line with Mourinho’s penchant for point scoring. The long-term effect of that, though, is McTominay falling victim to certain United supporters’ tendency to criticise academy products who fall short of the dizzying standard set by George Best at the club. See Phil Neville, John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher and even Nicky Butt for further evidence of that; the list goes on.
McTominay will never be the lavish, ball-playing midfielder of the type he was drafted into replace last season but it is important to remember the false start he was given at the club. What is to stop him, under Solskjaer’s tutelage, blossoming into a reliable midfield worker worthy of a place on United’s bench?
Solskjaer will face far greater challenges in his United managerial career than trips to Cardiff and visits of Huddersfield and, when injuries inevitably take their toll, it will be essential that the full compliment of his squad is up to speed.
It could prove to be the deciding factor in whether he is given the opportunity to break more records.
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