Getting the best of Paul Pogba, playing younger talent and improving the defence: The tasks facing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United
A look at the issues facing the caretaker manager at Old Trafford as he starts life as replacement to Jose Mourinho
Manchester United replaced am Uefa Champions League-winning manager with a Champions League-winning player.
Jose Mourinho’s temporary replacement is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the man who scored the dramatic winner against Bayern Munich in 1999 but whose only spell in a Premier League dugout ended in relegation with Cardiff.
But as his interim spell begins against his old club on Saturday, the Norwegian has plenty to do.
Improve the mood
This should be the easiest bit. Where Jose Mourinho divided, Solskjaer has to unite: tellingly, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward used that word and significantly the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust were quick to endorse Solskjaer.
The fan favourite will benefit simply by not being Mourinho, by not sounding paranoid or bitter. He will be an upgrade to morale if he does not indiscriminately criticise his players and damage their confidence.
But a bubbly character who has described United as his dream job should bring a more upbeat attitude. It helps, too, that his new assistant Mike Phelan was popular with the players when he was Sir Alex Ferguson’s No. 2.
United have a gifted squad, despite Mourinho’s gripes. Solskjaer and Phelan need to encourage them. Perhaps, with a better atmosphere, David de Gea and Anthony Martial may be persuaded to sign long-term deals.
Improve the results
The most obvious requirement for any manager. While United, 11 points off the top four, are unlikely to qualify for the Champions League, a run of one win in six domestic games is wretched.
The next five, against Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Bournemouth, Newcastle United and Reading, offer a chance to get victories, momentum and something of a feelgood factor.
Sort out the defence
Mourinho used to be the master of miserliness but only four teams have conceded more goals than United. Apart from a five-game run where Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw comprised the back four, Mourinho changed the unit every game; sometimes the system, too.
For all his gripes about the club’s summer failure to buy a centre-back, Eric Bailly was one of the best in the division last season and Lindelof has improved last year. Solskjaer should build around them.
Paul Pogba played 15 minutes in Mourinho’s last three league games. It showed the breakdown in their relationship which, as the Frenchman exerts a sizeable influence in the dressing room, was all the more damaging.
Pogba is a World Cup final scorer and was the costliest player on the planet: whatever his long-term future, United cannot afford to ignore him now. Not when they are picking the slow, labouring Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini.
Change the style of play
The hardest bit, and not merely because a crowded festive fixture list gives less time on the training ground. United have been left behind by teams who press better, run further and faster and are tactically cleverer.
They will not become Liverpool or Manchester City overnight, but they do have some players who would suit a more progressive, pacier style of play.
Picking a passing midfielder, the overlooked summer signing Fred, would be a start.
Go for the young
Mourinho liked to quote statistics about how many minutes Marcus Rashford played, but he also had an innate preference for experience.
As this could be a wasted season for United, the best thing Solskjaer could do is prepare them for the future and leave a positive legacy.
That should mean prioritising younger players like Rashford and Martial. Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot should be installed at full-back, though that would be harsh on the deserving veteran Ashley Young.
The older contingent of Matic, Fellaini, Antonio Valencia and Alexis Sanchez may suffer, but Solskjaer’s successor is unlikely to grant them pivotal roles anyway.
Updated: December 20, 2018 07:51 AM