Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Manchester United bounced back emphatically after their disappointing loss to Paris Saint-Germain with a crucial and historic win at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup fifth round.
Man United Break Stamford Bridge Duck
Before their 2-0 win, the Red Devils had failed to beat the Blues in all competitions away from home since 2012, which happened to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s final year in charge. For one reason or another, Man United had become intimidated by the Bridge and their record slumped to new depths.
However, with the positively infectious Norwegian as manager, Manchester United rose to the occasion with another stellar away performance in the FA Cup, making it one step closer to a Wembley semi-final.
The way they approached the game and carried out Solskjær’s strict instructions in defence showed just how much the players respect their manager, as well as his tactical nous in highly-pressurised situations.
One of the more obvious changes made under the Norwegian’s reign has been the lift in spirits from the players. They, finally, look happy to pull on the jersey and play for the club they chose to sign for. The likes of Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba are playing some of their best football for years at club level, to the fans’ utter delight.
A New Lease of Life For Herrera
The Spaniard is known to put in a worthwhile shift, especially when battling the top six, but Herrera’s performance against Chelsea was arguably his best yet. Herrera’s intuition of being in the right place at the right time, covering every blade of grass while also getting on the end of Pogba’s cross to find the back of the net shows his commitment to the team’s cause.
Playing in a slightly more offensive role, Herrera does not neglect his defensive duties and carries out Solskjær’s instructions to the absolute letter. The former Athletic Bilbao midfielder’s output has increased tenfold since the Norwegian took charge and has been operating at a consistent world-class level since December.
Marcus Rashford might only be 21 years old, but he has shown his leadership qualities throughout the last couple of months and his desire and determination to press from the front. José Mourinho never saw the England international as a centre forward, but the way he hunts down the ball and puts pressure on the opposition shows he has the tools to become incredibly successful there.
Throughout the 90 minutes, Rashford was utterly relentless, chasing down David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta, forcing them to play back to their goalkeeper time and time again. When Man United could break from a Chelsea corner, they looked up straight away to see if they could set Rashford free – in which they did a number of times that caused Maurizio Sarri’s players to be on the back foot.
Solskjær Targets Top 4
While Solskjær has been rightly complimented on improving the squad’s spirits, his work cannot be simplistically explained by just giving the players a morale boost. His tactical awareness and discipline has been on show in several big games, against Tottenham, Arsenal and now Chelsea. The result and performance might have been disappointing against Paris Saint-Germain, but the Norwegian recognised his fundamental error and quickly went about fixing them for the West London clash.
It might not have gone to plan a week ago, but this performance certainly showed an immense sense of togetherness and team cohesion that was sorely missing under Mourinho. With incredibly important fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester City approaching to determine the top four, Solskjær will be delighted with how his players responded to him in the manner that they did.
Under Mourinho, there was a lack of style and a lack of a philosophy. His ideology on what he envisaged this team to be flip-flopped with every passing game, which is one of the major reasons as to why there were clear signs of stagnation and even regression when entering into his third and final year.
It is still early days for Solskjær, but he has brought back to life some of Manchester United’s old, traditional values of putting teams under pressure and forcing them back. Coupled with his ability to see games out defensively, the Norwegian has shown the fans – as well as the club’s board – that he has the tools to bring United back to where they are used to: on top.
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