There was an overwhelming sense of surprise when it was announced that Ole Gunnar Solskjær was to take over from José Mourinho as Manchester United’s manager on an interim basis until the end of the season last week. With high profile candidates such as Laurent Blanc in the running, it was a left field appointment by Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, but one that caused some happiness in a season largely of darkness.

The Norwegian might only have had two training sessions with the players before the game against Cardiff City on Saturday evening, but it was clear what methods he was trying to implement in the short period of time.

One of those, as he mentioned in the pre-match interview, was to make United’s players feel comfortable and for them to enjoy their football once again. It was obvious that under Mourinho relationships became strained and the overall mood in the dressing room was one of negativity. The most important aspect from Solskjær’s perspective was to get that feeling back in the players’ hearts of going out and taking pride in wearing the shirt.

The other idea that Solskjær wanted to hone in on was for United’s players to have the confidence to go out and play like a typical Sir Alex Ferguson team. There would be no cowardice performances or systematical restrictions – the Norwegian wanted overlaps on both wings and for players from midfield making runs into the box. The more players there were going forward, the more chance they had to dominate possession in the right areas and create chances.

And so, after a thrilling 90 minutes in which United scored five goals for the first time in the Premier League since Ferguson’s last match in charge, it was apparent to the Red Devils fans that Solskjær unleashed a side of these players that had not been seen in years.

The most startling pattern of the game as it was unfolding was how advanced both Luke Shaw and Ashley Young were up on each wing; under Mourinho, the two Englishman were tucked in next to the two central defenders, prohibited from bombing forward in case of a counter attack from the opposition. That was simply not the case here.

Manchester United’s passing was quicker, desire at an intense level, an insatiable hunger to win the ball back and go hunt in packs, players willing to take more risks in the final third, full backs pushed right up developing overlaps, forwards interchanging between one another in a fluid style and more shots being fired off. This was the United that made so many fans fall in love with them initially and it was on show for the full 90 minutes in South Wales for the first time in a long time.

It is important not to get too excited by Man United’s performance against Cardiff, primarily because they are a newly-promoted team that are battling relegation this year, but the signs from the players and the attitude with how they went about their game is massively uplifting for the fans. This season has been difficult for the United faithful but this match just before Christmas has shown that brighter days are ahead.

Solskjær

Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba rose to the occasion brilliantly, along with Victor Lindelöf’s incisive passing through the lines and Jesse Lingard’s darting, non-stop runs, creating space for others to exploit. Nemanja Matić was United’s anchor that kept a lid on things at the other end and looked far more composed than in recent months. Young and Shaw always created options down the wing and Marcus Rashford was his usual lively self.

The difference this weekend was that Manchester United’s players looked happy with what they were doing. Tougher times are, of course, going to come, but it truly is a great sign when the players look like they want to be out there, fighting for their chance to impress the manager.

Solskjær is on a new manager bounce and will be tested throughout his six months in charge, but he could not got off to a better start than a thumping away win. With the feel good factor back and with a warm reception at Old Trafford to come, Manchester United can attack this Christmas period with full confidence knowing they have the quality to take on any team in the Premier League.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

Join the discussion