Man Utd under Solskjaer: a two-year meander to the top, and glory (solo) on the horizon

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“I hate to talk about what I’ve done and where we are, I don’t enjoy that,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after his team beat Sheffield United, his last game before his second anniversary as Manchester United manager. .

“I always look ahead and know that there is still a lot of work to be done to reach the standard and the level that I want. For that we work every day. I have really enjoyed these two years. “

That victory at Bramall Lane actually summed up life under Sunshine very well. There was a quick and ruthless attack, a lot of mistakes in his own half, uncertainty around the system that was being deployed … but still another win on the road, one certainly not short on entertainment.

United have definitely embraced Solskjaer’s commitment to exciting soccer matches, even if that hasn’t always been in a positive way for the fans. After two years of watching the Red Devils, you never know for sure which team is going to show up: the organized counter punchers who won four of six games against Manchester City; the clinical destroyers who defeated Chelsea and RB Leipzig and beat Paris Saint-Germain twice; the miserable toils who lost at West Ham, Newcastle United, Bournemouth and Watford from September to December last year without scoring a goal; or the logic-defying lunatics who were beaten 4-0 at Everton and 6-1 at home to Tottenham.

Still, Solskjaer has survived his team’s inconsistent form by adopting a relentlessly upbeat tone, defending improvements in fitness, morale and style since the miserable final days under José Mourinho, while last year he defended a third place finish. and three cup semifinals.

While that positivity isn’t always fully justified or credible, it’s true that, two years after replacing Mourinho in an initial interim deal, United are in a stronger position, even if, as Solskjaer puts it, a lot of work remains to be done. do.

IN THE TAILS OF FERGIE’S COAT

United have played 110 games with Solskjaer in all competitions, winning 61 and losing 27, giving them a 55.5 percent win rate. In the postwar era, only Mourinho (68 wins, 61.8 percent win rate) has had a better record in his first 110 games in charge.

In historical figures, Solskjaer is just 4.2% below United’s win rate with Alex Ferguson, who oversaw 897 wins in 1,503 games. Other than Mourinho, Solskjaer’s is the best percentage of men in command since Ferguson’s retirement seven years ago.

The big disappointment has been in the Champions League, where United have lost six of their 10 games with Solskjaer, setting the worst record of any manager for an English team. Two of their four famous victories were in Paris, and it is an accepted fact that United tend to do better away from Old Trafford with Solskjaer; in fact, they are on a club-record streak of 10 consecutive league wins in their travels. In all competitions, he has won 33 of 56 away games compared to 27 of 51 at home.

Solskjaer has often found it easier to achieve convincing results against stronger teams (see his unrivaled record against Pep Guardiola). That said, against the so-called ‘big six’ of the Premier League, he has won six of his 19 games, scoring 18 goals and conceding 25. That 25 percent win rate is well above David Moyes (six percent). , but less than Mourinho (31 percent) and Louis van Gaal (36 percent) in the years after Ferguson.

THE UNITED WAY, OR THE HIGHWAY

There was toxicity around United during the last few months of Mourinho in charge and Solskjaer’s first big task was to fumigate the place and get fans and players to enjoy football again.

While consistency of performances and results remains elusive, United have certainly embraced a bolder way of playing with their former striker.

Since taking office on December 19 two years ago, only Manchester City and Liverpool have scored more goals in the league than United’s 124, and that indicates a common trend.

United is fourth in chances created (755), passes finishing in the last third (11,006) and attempted shots (1,019) in the last two years. The top three in those categories are Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea.

When it comes to cruelty, only City and Liverpool have more shots on target than United’s 403, of which 16.3 percent have ended in goals. That’s reflected in the expected goal count, which indicates that they have scored 103 times (excluding penalties and own goals) when, realistically, they were expected to score 97.

Still, in the two years leading up to Solskjaer’s appointment, United’s xG was 105.5 and he scored 120 times in the league, showing that their attacking line has room for improvement if they want to become serious contenders again in the league. top of English football.

HARRY TRANSFIGURED THE DEFENSE?

United finished third last season, 33 points behind champions Liverpool, but were second best in losses (eight) and third in goals against (36). Only Burnley, Liverpool and Man City kept more than their 13 clean sheets.

Regardless of what you think about Harry Maguire’s £ 80 million price tag or Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s offensive acumen, there is no question that United have been going strong on defense under Solskjaer.

His expected goals against in the Norwegian soccer league is 72.7, with his actual goals against the count at 67 (ignoring penalties and own goals), which is not a huge discrepancy. And while they only conceded 58 league goals in the two years leading up to Solskjaer’s appointment (again, penalties and own goals aside), their xGA is 77.8 for the same time frame. That tells you that realistically they should have conceded around 20 more goals, but they were mostly rescued by David de Gea enjoying the best form of his career.

FERNANDES, RASHFORD AND THE PROMISED LAND

Solskjaer’s first full season in charge was defined by the arrival of Bruno Fernandes last January, the catalyst for a 19-game unbeaten streak that propelled them to two cup semi-finals and back to the Champions League.

Fernandes has been directly involved in 37 goals for United (23 scored, 14 assisted), behind only Anthony Martial (43) and Marcus Rashford (57) during Solskjaer’s reign, despite being at the club for less than a year. .

Since the Portuguese star’s debut on February 1, United have added 55 points from 26 league games, second only to Liverpool, who have played one more game in that time. Their home form continues to slow down a bit (they had 20 points in 13 league games at Old Trafford in that time frame), but no one can match their 35 points and zero losses away from home.

Disappointing results and defensive weaknesses have been a problem in 2020-21, but there are qualities in United’s game that are achieving them. In fact, while concentration levels may have slid backwards, a sharper focus on the higher end of the tone is paying off.

In the league, United have had 42 high turnovers, with 10 of those incidents resulting in a shot (24 percent). Only Man City (28 percent) has a better ratio.

There has also been a critical impact from Rashford, the player who has played the most games (91) with Solskjaer, whose two goals helped him beat Sheffield United and who has begun to share the burden of Bruno in bringing him to his side. .

Rashford has five goals and four assists this season, just two goals behind Fernandes, despite being concerned about a shoulder injury and a persistent change in the offensive lineup around him.

Relevant, the England star has managed 16 carries that ended in shots in 2020-21, the most in the Premier League. Three of them have resulted in goals, behind only Jack Grealish (four) and Son Heung-min (nine).

United have a game in hand against the five teams above them in the table that, if they win, will take them within two points of leader Liverpool. There are still questions to be answered and doubts to be dispelled around Solskjaer’s long-term suitability for the job, but at least he has United on track to compete with the best once again, even if the way back to the top. is a devious.




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