Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pulled off the finest victory of his managerial career when his rampant Red Devils side ran riot at The Etihad on Saturday. They went into the Manchester derby as massive underdogs, but they delivered a masterclass in counterattacking football and left with all three points. Man City simply could not live with the fluency, pace and dynamism of Man Utd’s front three and if anything the margin of victory could have been far higher. There is now renewed optimism among the fans as they gear up for a hectic festive calendar.
The 2-1 win left Man Utd fifth in the table. They are now just five points behind Chelsea, who have lost three of their last four games, and securing a top-four place suddenly looks like an achievable goal once more. An analysis of the SBR odds shows the bookmakers believe Liverpool, Man City, and Leicester have the top three placed wrapped up. They make Chelsea the clear favourites to finish fourth, followed by a Spurs side that looks rejuvenated under Jose Mourinho. Man Utd are 4/1 outsiders in this market, but can they upset the odds?
A Classic Man Utd Display
You certainly cannot argue with their recent form. Even the most optimistic Man Utd fans would not have realistically expected them to take six points from their games against Tottenham and Man City. Yet Solskjaer deserves a great deal of credit for the way he set his team up in both games. Spurs turned up to Old Trafford surging with confidence after sauntering to victories in the first three games of the Mourinho era, but a Marcus Rashford brace left them empty-handed. They outfought Spurs all over the pitch and they were a good value for their win.
Solskjaer knew he had to change tack against a technically dazzling Man City side, and the results were spectacular. His team had just 28% of the possession, but they broke with pace, flair, and unpredictability at every opportune moment. It was a classic Man Utd display, reminiscent of many great performances during the Sir Alex Ferguson era. Man City had no answer to rapid triumvirate of Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James, and the much-maligned midfield deserves praise for working the ball to them so quickly.
Dominating the Big Six
It shows that Man Utd can be a force to be reckoned with in any away game. At Old Trafford, they are compelled to control the game to a greater extent, but on the road, they can rip teams apart on the counterattack. They remain the only team this season to prevent Liverpool from winning, and they have now beaten Spurs, Man City, and Chelsea, showing that they have no trouble raising their game for the big occasions.
Former captain Roy Keane was effusive in his praise. “They’ve been criticized a lot recently and today we need to take our hats off,” he said. “They were outstanding. It was a Manchester United performance. The way they managed the game, the blocks, the speed, it was brilliant. For me, that’s what Manchester United is all about. But they have to do it consistently and they do need a helping hand and hopefully, they get that in the next couple of transfer windows.”
A Need for Tactical Flexibility
The point about consistency is certainly valid. Man Utd needs to become flat-track bullies. They have proven their ability to go toe to toe with the best teams in the league, but they need to start exerting their authority over smaller teams that will sit back and defend. It will require tactical flexibility from Solskjaer, but he is certainly showing signs of progress as a manager.
A few weeks ago he was among the favourites to be the next Premier League manager axed from his post. Mauricio Pochettino, Unai Emery and Marco Silva have all bitten the dust, but Solskjaer has earned himself a reprieve. The Red Devils are unbeaten in five games and their rivals are faltering. If he secures a Champions League place a wins a cup, it would have to qualify as a successful season for the Norwegian. If they continue playing as they have over the past week then that looks perfectly achievable.