Just eleven matches have passed since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s hiring and he somehow has United in the top four, a feat which many rightfully believed would take the whole season if it were to happen at all. The undefeated Norwegian knows the Manchester United job could very well be his if he holds on to his progress.
It is a fair claim that Solskjaer, as he did in the dying embers of United's never-to-be-forgotten 1998/99 season,
has restored fans’ ability to dream. The contentment of rediscovered
ambitions stems from United’s likely participation in Europe’s elite
competition next year, combined with improved player morale and the
prospect of competing in tough upcoming fixtures.
Given that Jose Mourinho had United scraping through their
Champions League group, eliminated from the Carabao Cup and marooned in
the Premier League’s sixth position, it seemed at the time of his
sacking that nobody would be able to do that, let alone a relatively inexperienced
rookie from Norway’s first division who oversaw Cardiff’s
2014 relegation during his only spell as a boss in England’s top
Even more unfathomably, Paul Pogba is world football’s most in-form player, Anthony Martial has committed to spending his best years in
Mancunian red, and Victor Lindelof has become one of the finest, most formidable defenders in the Premier League. Nearly every player has been spurred on to greater heights under the watchful eye of the affable Ole.
The players have all shown marked improvements under Solskjaer, who has
been as keen to restore enthusiasm as he has been able to force
performances out of players by creating competition in a threadbare
squad. Outside his core of key players who have helped United to ten
wins from eleven, fringe players who struggled in the later months under
Mourinho are looking to restore themselves and fight for places, with
the rust remover slowly but hopefully working on Alexis Sanchez and
Just two months after his appointment, Manchester United finishing
fourth without any glory would almost be disappointing, but now is the
worst time to begin to dream. Three matches ahead could well and truly
make or break United’s season.
It was Mourinho’s rotated side that lost at the hands of Valencia,
throwing the chance to beat Juventus to top spot in the group and
forcing Solskjaer into a tough Round of 16 draw against Paris
Saint-Germain. Outside United’s improvements, the countdown to the tie
has been met by the end of PSG’s unbeaten season at the hands of Lyon last
week, and injuries to key players such as Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and
perhaps Marco Verratti, not to mention the freezing out of Adrien Rabiot.
Nonetheless, Solskjaer’s men will have to produce their best
performance of the season over the two legs to stand a chance, as seen
by the struggles of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool at the Parc des Princes.
Beat PSG, undoubtedly one of the top sides in Europe based on talent
alone, and United will believe they can beat anyone. But then, we won away in Turin earlier in the campaign so if you win against Juventus in Juventus you can beat anyone.
The same goes for United’s FA Cup tie away at Chelsea, where a late
Javier Hernandez winner secured their last win over the Blues in 2012
and the only away win at Stamford Bridge since 2002. An exodus of top
sides from the FA Cup that included Jesse Lingard’s moonwalk at the
Emirates leaves only Maurizio Sarri’s side, and Manchester City, who
trounced them 6-0 this weekend to secure United’s fourth-place position
for the next two weeks.
Lastly and arguably most importantly, though, United must beat Liverpool at Old Trafford on February 24th.
Denying Jurgen Klopp and Mohamed Salah a favour in their quest to lift
the Premier League title is as important as consolidating a place in the
top four and proving the mental strength to overturn this season
Likely the toughest match of the three is also the highest profile,
as it would allow revenge for the embarrassing Anfield defeat earlier in
the season and move the attention over to Spurs, who would have the
chance to deal final blows to Chelsea and Arsenal in successive Premier
League matches before United travel to France.
Anything other than an absurd finale would see United fall short
domestically, in no small part due to 2018 form. The same could be said
about the Champions League, where United still simply fall short of
Europe’s top teams, all of whom can expose United’s weaknesses.
However, more progression and more momentum carried into the summer
would leave a squad that, at its best, is in the Top 10 in Europe, not
too far short of the elite. Europe currently seems to lack the same
dominant club sides which filled the majority of the decade, and with
many clubs vying to be among the next, there is no reason why Manchester
United cannot participate in the discussion.
Heading into the summer of 2018, it seemed this United side needed
just a few changes to head toward Europe’s elite before the club
imploded intrinsically. The measure of Solskjaer’s success upon hiring
would have been the restoration and improvement of a talented side, and
he has done exactly that.
Through game-changers on the pitch playing attractive and effective
football, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has promised and delivered upon a dream.
At Manchester United, the only reward for a dream is a thousand more
expectations, and for the club’s millions of fans, there isn’t a more
exciting prospect. The notion of a club legend leading a sleeping giant back to the halycon days of yesteryear is one that seemed merely a fantasy, but one that could soon become a reality.
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