Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Newcastle made Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the second manager in the club’s history to win each of his first four league games after Sir Matt Busby, who did the same in 1946. In a matter of four games, United who looked out of the race for the top four have halved the gap from fourth placed Chelsea to six points – with Arsenal three points adrift at fifth.
The list of achievements under Solskjaer doesn’t quite stop there. For instance, the 5-1 win over Cardiff in his very first game was the first time United scored five goals in a Premier League match since the days of Sir Alex Fergusson.
Therefore, the positive vibe surrounding the club is understandable. They are playing great football, scoring more goals, the likes of Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford proving what they can do once they are unshackled – which is precisely what Solskjaer has done.
With the race for top four back on in the league, United are still in the Champions League where they face a stiff challenge against Paris Saint Germaine. The FA Cup has started for the Premier League teams this weekend, where United would’ve played their third round match against Reading (Saturday) by the time you read this.
Even so, while there is more than a fair share of cause for buoyancy, there could just as easily be a case of getting carried away. After all, while you can only beat what is in front of you, the teams that United have overcome haven’t exactly featured any of the big fish.
Hence, United’s biggest challenge would be coming Sunday when they travel to Tottenham Hotspur, who are well and truly in the title race despite their loss at home against Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend.
Not only would they be away to one of the top three sides in the league, it would be the reverse fixture after a 3-0 defeat for United at Old Trafford in August. If United can do well at Spurs, they would feel they have truly turned the corner and can actually look upwards – on the table and elsewhere – for the rest of what has officially become a transition season in a protracted transition phase for the club.
Similarly, not only would the Spurs challenge be steep owing to their league position and what happened at Old Trafford, but also because of the brand of football Tottenham play. There is little doubt that United will be aggressively going for pretty much every match they play this season – especially since they have already travelled to Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea – and hence to overcome, or nullify, one of the most prolific attacking sides in the league would truly cement a new United.
It would be, and so far has been, a United in complete contrast to what it had been under Jose Mourinho. It was always a given that United under Mourinho won’t exactly play expansive football, but once the results dried out, a freefall on the league table ensued and clean sheets increasingly became rarity – the separation was inevitable.
And while of course it isn’t depicted as such, but that is one of the reasons why it became all the more important that United returned to their attacking ways on the football pitch. The fact that it has been paying dividends on the results front as well is why United have been buzzing over the past couple of weeks.
But, again, couple of weeks they have been. Over four months of football is to be played this season, with United now upholding readjusted ambitions.
The primary target for the season would be a top four finish in the league. If United manage to overcome PSG and go deeper in the Champions League, coupled with another deep FA Cup run, they would be contrasting icings on the cake.
In many ways, Solskjaer’s appointment as the caretaker boss was perfectly timed. He entered the busy festive fixtures with United having relatively easy matchups for Solskjaer to begin with. If he manages to ensure a top four finish for United come May, playing the brand of football that they are playing as things stand, he would’ve exceeded expectations.
And while it would appear hard for Solskjaer and United to part ways then, he would have done his job by leaving a healthy team at the hands of whoever permanently takes up the job, with the club in the Champions League and perhaps its most prized assets enjoying themselves on the pitch again.
Of course, the luxury Solskjaer has is that even if that doesn’t happen, he has nothing to lose, given the condition in which he inherited United. However, in addition to the club successfully rebounding, the Norwegian has the opportunity take his own managerial pedigree up several notches in the next four months.