April 21, 2021

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Pep Guardiola’s comments dispel myth about Manchester United boss Solskjaer

4 min read

Pep Guardiola and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are on good terms.

Even when the managers of Manchester City and Manchester United clashed at one stage on the Etihad Stadium touchline, over a passage of play when the hosts played on instead of giving United the ball back, the two quickly made peace.

“No problem, no problem, it’s solved,” was Guardiola’s quick reply to the suggestion there was a rift between the pair. Solskjaer immediately offered a fist-bump to the City boss after the incident and it was over — perhaps to the disappointment of the drama-seeking Sky producers — in a second.

Of course, it is not unusual for this kind of respect to exist between top managers these days. Gone, by and large, is the era of press conference barbs from the likes of Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez and Sir Alex Ferguson and genuine needle between the dugouts. The modern Premier League era is a little more PR-savvy, and sanitised, and has been way before covid-19 restrictions meant the managers couldn’t get within two metres of each other.

But you do feel there is genuine respect between these two current Manchester incumbents.

And Guardiola’s comments about Solskjaer have shown in the past why critics of the United boss might be a little hasty to write him off as tactically naive.

You do not win three of your last four Premier League meetings with Guardiola’s City — drawing the other one — without having something about you. Some might deride the wins at the Etihad as based purely on sitting deep and counter-attacking, but even Solskjaer’s opposite number gave the United boss more credit than that. He couldn’t criticise his own team too much; he could only praise the United gameplan, which resulted in a deserved 2-0 win for the visitors and the local bragging rights.



United were deserved winners at City

“It was a fantastic game,” said Guardiola. “United make incredibly high pressing and they are so fast on the counter. We played good. Unfortunately we couldn’t be clinical up front so we congratulate United.”

Okay, you might expect Guardiola to defend his City players and his own tactical approach, but the way he went on about United suggested genuine admiration for what Solskjaer was able to achieve.

Guardiola praising a manager for his implementation of pressing is like Tiger Woods lauding a golfer’s nervelessness putting on the 18th green at Augusta.

“We played a fantastic game, lots of shots,” the City boss added. “Starting that way punishes us a lot when a team like Man United defend, sit back, for the counter-attack. They press incredibly high but when you break this, they get back quickly. Like Solskjaer said: the history of Man United, the counter-attack and the pace.”

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Henderson and McTominay celebrate at full-time

Manchester United secured a memorable 2-0 derby victory over Man City at the Etihad Stadium.

Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw scored the goals to clinch an unexpected, but empathic, victory for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s troops against the league leaders.

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One-off games continue to be Solskjaer’s forte. The difficulty in assessing the Norwegian’s long-term management of United is that infuriating inconsistencies keep cropping up.

How can a side look so lifeless in draws to West Brom and Crystal Palace, and a home defeat by Sheffield United, then produce that kind of dazzling display against City? How can they concede three at home to Everton but shut out a side on a 21-match winning streak? How can a defence that shipped 11 goals in their first three matches of the campaign now have eight clean sheets in 11?

Such questions won’t disappear until until Solskjaer irons out the inconsistencies, though a second place finish this season behind Guardiola’s City would satisfy many critics. Not least because the City boss himself rates Solskjaer’s United so highly, having been on the sharp end of their best performances. Thomas Tuchel would say the same, having twice suffered defeat while in charge of PSG against United. Solskjaer has also beaten Jose Mourinho, Mauricio Pochettino, Maurizio Sarri, Carlo Ancelotti and other top managers in the past two years.

And crucially, United have backed their man through the many ups and downs of the past 27 months.

Guardiola and other elite bosses, as well as seismic performances in landmark games, continue to prove the Old Trafford chiefs have probably got it right. There is little wrong with Solskjaer’s tactical acumen.

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