Manchester United were back to their best against Chelsea in the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge. United produced a sublime all round display just six days after losing to PSG in the Round of 16 1st Leg which was Solskjaer’s first defeat since he replacing Jose Mourinho in December.
“We had criticism after the PSG game and everyone did what we asked tonight,”
Simply put by the Norwegian. Solskjaer’s men proceeded to the next round courtesy to first-half goals from Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba, and they were successfully able to prevent Chelsea from seriously testing goalkeeper Sergio Romero during the entire match.
United have won 11 of their 13 games under Solskjaer, who has been appointed interim manager until the end of the season. They are presently fourth in the Premier League, having been 11 points adrift of that position when the club’s former striker was appointed to the position back in December, and will play Wolves in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Looking back on the game and United’s encouraging performance, here are the five essential things that we learnt from this victory :
1. The Emergence of Pogba.
Pogba under Ole has seen life turnaround very fast. He is now the Leader figure, that everyone knew he could become one day. Against Chelsea, Paul Pogba continued to excel as United’s driving force in the Midfield alongside Herrera, notably when playing Rashford through and then sprinting into the area to head in his cross and double their lead.
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Pogba was back to his best as he scored one and set-up the other in a brilliant 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge, with a performance which means he has now been directly involved in 15 goals since Solskjaer took charge.
In the aftermath of his plaudit winning performance, the World Cup winner earned plenty of praise for his performance from fans and pundits alike and even went on to reveal the reason behind his and teams performance by identified the trust from his manager as a key factor in his resurgence.
2. Attacking Football.
Solskjaer comes from that breed of managers which inherently prefer an attacking brand of football and it was noticeable how he had managed to lift off an unseen trove of unwanted pressure off his players.
Along with that, another thing that United fans are gradually seeing more of is the runs of the the full-backs Ashley Young and Luke Shaw, who are constantly making dangerous forward runs and have a much more natural urgency in getting the ball forward than under Mourinho.
Since his arrival, Solskjaer has instilled a new found belief among the fans by making the team play the much coveted and loved attacking brand of football right from the very first whistle. Solskjaer has not only allowed players to express themselves on the pitch but has also made a number of tactical changes in the big matches as well in order to seamlessly allow to players to follow their passion on the field.
As seen against Chelsea, Ole has once again proved that Attack can prove to be the best form of Defence when done right.
3. Rashford at no.9 is the best choice.
Under Solskjaer’s tutelage, Rashford’s tendency to drift out wide has allowed Paul Pogba more freedom to arrive late into the box and score headers and tap-ins, resulting in nine goals since December.
Solskjaer’s impact hasn’t just been tactical. It’s clear to see that Rashford is enjoying the responsibility of a team that is gradually relying more and more on him to carry the goalscoring burden.
Mourinho Splashed out 75 million Euros on Lukaku and Van Gaal made Ibra his preference, but Solskjaer has stuck with Rashford as the central striker which has proved to be hugely beneficial for United. Judging by his goal scoring tally already, its fair to say that Rashford has excelled in that position, thanks to a highly unexpected but a masterstroke nevertheless from the manager.
4. Positive relation and giving freedom to his players.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the first Manchester United manager to ever win his first six games. Flanked by the evergreen Young and industrious Shaw, Chelsea weren’t even allowed to half as much as a sniff in the second half as they searched for a route back into the game.
Even Eden Hazard, so often a thorn in United’s side, cut a despondent figure as the match entered its closing stages.
This is the first time in years that United’s starting XI has virtually picked itself. Louis van Gaal landed on his best team for a period at the back end of his first season in charge as United recorded wins over Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City, but the reality is United never had a starting XI as settled as Solskjaer’s has now than under David Moyes, Van Gaal or Mourinho.
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5. Champions League hopes not just alive but redeveloped.
United who would be without Pogba in the second leg of the UCL tie, seem to have found their mojo back and are determined to give PSG a run for their money. Securing a win and subsequent qualification to the next round is an herculean task in itself but its sure as hell not impossible. Lets see what the future holds.