Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
Manchester United were always going to lose at one point or another under Ole Gunnar Solskjær. It comes to no real surprise that the first game in which they suffered defeat was against Paris Saint-Germain, a team that has been built for the sole reason of winning the Champions League.
While the Red Devils had enjoyed 10 wins from 11 matches in all competitions under the caretaker manager, this game enforced the premonition that Man United are still miles off truly challenging the European elite.
The Norwegian can only do so much with a limited squad and the turnaround from where his side were in late December to now, sitting in fourth place and having made up the 13 points difference to Chelsea.
Manchester United were in no man’s land, struggling emphatically to keep clean sheets while also finding it increasingly difficult to add any sort of consistency to their game or exciting attacking output. After 17 games in the Premier League, they had a goal difference that read zero. Such was José Mourinho’s demise, the Red Devils’ management decided enough was enough and came to terms with the £19.6 million payoff that was due.
There might have been concerns over Solskjær’s record coming in to take over after his appalling spell with Cardiff, but the club needed some feel good factor and someone to understand the inner workings of the environment.
Similarly to Real Madrid and Barcelona, there can be an argument made that Man United do not need the biggest names in world football to take over, they just need someone who can control the dressing room and enforce the club’s traditions. The Norwegian has done just that and allowed the players to express themselves on the pitch.
PSG was always going to be the next step to see how far Solskjær could take this team and was unfortunate to see Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard come off through injury. While they did not pose a huge attacking threat in the first half, they quelled the Parisian’s attacking output somewhat and were showing glimpses of what they possess on the counter attack with a fluid front three.
With Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez arriving to take the injured duos places, United lost that spark and intensity straight away. The Spaniard has never been blessed with speed and struggled to impose himself on the game, while Sanchez has seldom shown anything like his form at Arsenal in the 13 months that he has been with the Red Devils.
Thomas Tuchel’s side might have had key injuries to players before the game even took place, but the quality within their squad brightly shone through. The German coach might have come under some criticism in recent weeks for some mixed results, but he showed why he was wanted by the Parisian giant and what his side can do, even without Edinson Cavani and Neymar.
With important fixtures coming up against the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool, Solskjær will be judged more so on Man United’s FA Cup run as well as their pursuit for a top four finish. When all looked lost for the season, the Norwegian has, at very least, given something for the fans to once again be excited about.
And so now is not the time for Manchester United fans to enter into wild panic. While it was right for the club’s management not to have awarded the job on a permanent basis after wins against Tottenham and Arsenal, it is also completely logical not to disregard Solskjær’s candidacy because of the gulf in quality between the two sides.
The Norwegian can only do so much and go so far with the limited squad he has.