Wed. Nov 25th, 2020

Man Utd

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Manchester United have done what Sir Alex Ferguson did after a 6-1

4 min read

Perhaps it was not purely a coincidence that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made the exact same number of changes that Sir Alex Ferguson did in response to his own 6-1 shellacking.

Solskjaer dropped five players for the Premier League win at Newcastle, just as Ferguson had for United’s next league assignment at Everton after the floodgates opened against Manchester City. In both cases, one of the alterations was enforced – Anthony Martial was suspended and Ashley Young injured.

The notable difference is Solskjaer has enjoyed a more spectacular recovery: four goals up at Newcastle preceded his coaching zenith at Paris Saint-Germain, stumped by his tactical tweaks before and during United’s win.

Ferguson oversaw a Manchester lockdown nine years before its more stifling measures. Across five league games in October, November and December, United scored just five, winning four 1-0 and drawing with Newcastle 1-1. Javier Hernandez got three of them and one was an own goal.

In a season he ended with a joint-career best tally of 34 goals, Wayne Rooney briefly dropped back into midfield in the absence of any actual new midfielders. Tom Cleverley was rushed back from injury and influential on his return at Goodison Park but hobbled off and was sidelined for four months. So Phil Jones, already trialled at right-back and centre-back, had to hold the fort at Aston Villa, where he struck an adroit volley.

Michael Carrick came back in from the cold and embarked on a stellar 18-month run of form that concluded with Ferguson’s retirement. Carrick, now one of Solskjaer’s lieutenants, is a key common denominator in the two 6-1s nine years apart (though he was injured for the October 2011 derby). The other is David de Gea, in goal for both trouncings.

Carrick and Solskjaer walked out of Old Trafford together on Saturday night and held a debrief in the car park behind the Stretford End. Solskjaer has repeatedly lauded the coaching of Carrick unprompted and his choice of midfielders following the Tottenham tonking has to be influenced by his former teammate.

Scott McTominay and Fred lined up 19 times together last season and United won 15 and lost only three (away at Newcastle, Bournemouth and Watford). Solskjaer has settled on the axis to plug the gaps in the last three matches and United kept a first clean sheet of the league season against Chelsea.

If Chelsea were managed by Antonio Conte or Jose Mourinho at the weekend the coverage of their approach would have been scathing. Frank Lampard has banked enough credits with certain members of the media during his playing days and received a platter of slack. Chelsea managed one attempt on target at Old Trafford from a dead-ball effort by the wing-back Reece James that was caught, rather than saved, by De Gea.

Solskjaer was more adventurous with his changes, removing Daniel James for Edinson Cavani, introducing Paul Pogba, and swapping a midfielder for a goalscorer. His quiver was lacking steel, though. Only half the United front six was made up of threatening forwards against three centre-backs, two wing-backs, and their minders N’Golo Kante and Jorginho.

Chelsea invested over £200million on their squad in the summer but had shipped nine goals in five games prior to visiting M16. United, pummelled by Crystal Palace and Brighton before they were put on the canvas by Tottenham, have sieved 12. Maybe a 0-0 was inevitable.

“There has been a massive mentality shift,” Gary Neville said on Monday Night Football. “Before the game [with Chelsea] the big debate was would Man Utd stick with the back five, or go to a back four. It’s actually a bit of a sideshow; the key has been what’s in front of it.

“Coming out of the international break, what’s the difference? Ole has gone back to what served him well last season – that box: Victor Lindelof, Maguire, Fred, McTominay. All have a defensive mindset. All quick at getting to the ball, particularly those two in front of the centre-backs.



Neville analysed United's 'back to basics' set-up
Neville analysed United’s ‘back to basics’ set-up

“So every time Man United attacked, and the ball broke out to Chelsea’s midfield, they were all over them like a rash. For me, Ole has almost thought, ‘I need to go back to basics. I can’t keep conceding chances’.”

The glaring difference between master and apprentice is Ferguson’s lockdown coincided with his 25th anniversary as United manager and they were reigning champions. Solskjaer verbally agreed to the caretaker post when Jose Mourinho was dismissed two years ago and impatience is rife with United starved of silverware and Mauricio Pochettino still unattached.

Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek, talents involved in runs to the World Cup final and Champions League semi-finals, have taken back seats behind the dugout for McTominay and Fred. Pogba has been in a similar situation before.

Ferguson’s penultimate season ended with Pogba leaving.

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