Manchester United made it 7 wins in a row in all competitions since Ole Gunnar Solksjaer took over. The common narrative is that Solksjaer has released the players from the shackles. He has given the players the license to attack. While that is true, it is simplistic to say so.
Conspiracy theorists say that the players have exercised their player power to deliberately play poorly and get Mourinho sacked. I am of the opinion that it is a little bit of everything coming together to deliver better results and performances now.
From the onset of pre-season, doom and gloom has gathered around United. The manager was not happy with the squad, the players tried to implement his tactics and they didn’t look happy either. Everyone toiled and endured until the board decided to put an end to the misery and fire Mourinho.
I don’t believe the players deliberately played poorly to get Mourinho sacked. I believed they tried but the connection between manager and players was lost. They didn’t buy into what he was trying to get them to do. Mourinho was not convinced with the players he got to work with either.
No-one can say for sure if that is the case unless they are someone from inside the camp. We were fed with multiple reports that could be fake or true or in between fake and the truth. What was clear though was that it didn’t look like a happy and positive camp.
There are some with the theory that any manager could have succeeded Mourinho and done as good a job as Solksjaer has done. Maybe so but I find that disrespectful for what Solksjaer has done. Solksjaer has been perfect since his appointment. He says the right things and is always seen with a smile. It is a far cry from the permanent scowl on Mourinho’s face and public display of frustration and irritation. He has also got the results and the players to play better.
Maybe in the sequence of games that United had, Mourinho might have won them all too but it surely will not be pretty. Coming on the back of a defeat to arch-rivals Liverpool, I doubt the team would have played as well and done as well as they are doing now.
Solksjaer’s positivity has rubbed off on the players. The players are enjoying their football and express themselves better. The perfect shot for the current situation is epitomized by that of the players under the sun, smiling and laughing in training in Dubai.
Some belittle the run United has been on by downplaying the victories due to the opponents faced. These are the bread and butter matches that United should win but in recent past have made heavy weather of it. Recent history has taught us that the matches are there to be won, we cannot take these matches for granted.
The first real test that United faced in Solksjaer’s era was against Tottenham. He surprised me by displaying great tactical awareness to exploit Tottenham’s weakness in the first half and take the lead. In the second half, United’s weakness was exposed but they were saved by the excellence of David De Gea.
In the press conference leading to the Brighton game over the weekend, Solksjaer spoke about seeing the reaction of the players after winning a big match against Tottenham. It is easy to motivate yourself for a big match, can they do it in a routine match against an opponent they are expected to win?
United did win but had to work hard for it in the end. They conceded an avoidable goal which raises the question on the weak point this season, their defense. Despite the 7 wins, there is still room for improvement namely in defense. The defense looks like it will take until the summer for it to be fortified.
I can’t see United signing anyone in the January transfer window. The targets linked to United all look like they are impossible to sign now. There has also been talk from the start of the season about the hiring of a Director Of Football to oversee signings. I doubt any signings will be made until the Director is hired.
Personally, I don’t fret about signings and sales because I am mostly interested in what happens on the field. I just hope though that out of all the players linked to United, we do not sign Kostas Manolas because he is no better than Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.
For this United, it is exciting to watch them play again. There will be tougher challenges ahead. How will the team respond? How will the manager respond to adversities? It will be interesting to see. I don’t mind it if Solksjaer gets the job full time. I just want to see him get properly tested before that decision is made.