The encounter on a cold night at Old Trafford late last January was arguably the nadir of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign, as Burnley secured a thoroughly deserved 2-0 win.
Jay Rodriguez’s goal, the sweetly hit second in front of the Stretford End, was worthy of winning any match – the issue for United is that they had offered nothing to suggest they should have taken the three points themselves.
Solskjaer’s side had been booed off at half-time following Chris Wood’s opener, while large parts of the ground lay empty ahead of the final whistle being blown an hour later.
The result left United fifth in the Premier League, six points behind Chelsea in fourth, 14 behind Leicester in third and a staggering 30 points behind runaway leaders Liverpool.
United knew they needed to do something if they were to address their inability to break down their more pragmatic domestic opponents and save their fading hopes of Champions League football – eight days later they signed Bruno Fernandes.
Despite being annoyed by the incessant reports from Portuguese media over a move United finally bit the bullet as they accelerated plans to bring creative midfielder Fernandes to Old Trafford ahead of the January transfer deadline.
Club sources told the MEN the new signing had brought an immediate lift to Carrington from only his first training session. It seemed a bit exaggerated at the time, but now it seems they were telling the truth all along.
After an incredible debut year at United it is now fair to draw comparisons between Fernandes and Eric Cantona – although only one of them has the trophies to match at this moment in time. However, the transformation goes beyond simply the addition of a new creative midfielder.
The former Sporting star has unlocked new possibilities for Solskjaer at the club, but he arrived as the missing link rather than the sole catalyst for change.
It is true that his winning mentality and confidence have helped transform the culture of the first-team dressing room, however the manager also deserves credit for the wider club vision which he is gradually putting in place.
Solskjaer always intended to play in the fast, fluid style of play which we’ve seen more of this season – but such an approach was not always possible with the personnel he had at his disposal.
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Manchester United got back to winning ways with a low-key 1-0 victory over Watford in the FA Cup.
Scott McTominay’s early header was enough for the win at Old Trafford, as United booked their place in the hat for the fourth round.
United will now refocus on their league campaign with crucial games to come this week against Burnley and Liverpool.
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Since that meeting with Sean Dyche’s side a year ago only Fernandes has been signed who is an obvious first-choice option in the starting line up every week. Odion Ighalo and Edinson Cavani are better striking options on the bench, Donny van de Beek’s influence will grow, Alex Telles has provided competition for Luke Shaw rather than replaced him and right wing duo Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo are ones for the future.
If they avoid defeat at Turf Moor on Tuesday night then United will head to Anfield later in the week as Premier League leaders themselves.
That realistic possibility justifies the club’s decision to back Solskjaer when the going got tough a year ago, but even if they were to suffer a shock setback in midweek the past twelve months of progress are clear evidence of why no immediate managerial change is needed.