Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Manchester United's quiet confidence rewarded as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's youthful side step up to rout Chelsea

A side with an average age of 24 began the Premier League campaign in impressive fashion at Old Trafford

At Manchester United’s penultimate pre-season game in Oslo 10 days ago, one United player was adamant.

“Trust me, we’re going to smash Chelsea,” he said to this writer with a surprising confidence.

Was he really so sure that his side would destroy a team which had finished above them in the league last season, and which also boasted a superb record against United in recent seasons?

He was. He wanted to remain anonymous, but his prediction gave an insight into the state of mind of United’s men against a backdrop of severe criticism following their dire end to last term when they went their final six games without a win.

United fans would have laughed if they had heard his words. Their belief in their team needed picking up off the floor after last season and what many – though not the club itself - considered to be a disappointing transfer window.

But the consensus can be wrong. And the player was right.

The scoreboard at Old Trafford tells the story of United's big afternoon. PA
The scoreboard at Old Trafford tells the story of United's big afternoon. PA

United did defeat Chelsea, a 4-0 opening match victory on Sunday which may have flattered Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men but saw the many positive signs of pre-season continue into the genuine competition of the Premier League.

“As we said to the boys before the game, we have found the way we want to play and a way we believe in,” said United’s manager.

“You’ve just got to go out and do the same. We took risks but that’s the way here, you have got to go for it. It’s risk and reward and today we were rewarded.”

His young United side has got a long, long way to go in their development. With an average age of 24 it was the youngest to take the field in the Premier League’s opening weekend.

They were nervy and shaky and made mistakes. Chelsea could and should have been two up while United’s defenders were penned back in their own half.

Chelsea were the better side for the first hour, but United won by four goals and with a clean sheet.

There will be bumps along the way, but it was the best possible start with Solskjaer’s two main strikers, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, both scoring.

His two costly new defenders, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan Bissaka, settled in immediately.

“Harry was very calm and composed,” said teammate Andreas Pereira. “And Aaron was brilliant. I don’t think anyone can get past him one versus one.”

“Maguire’s done exactly what we’ve signed him for, his presence in both boxes, his calmness and composure on the ball,” enthused Solskjaer.

“He’s a leader and with him, David de Gea and Victor Lindelof they marshalled that back line really well. It is important to have strong personalities at the back.”

Solskjaer in addition described Wan Bissaka as a “proper Manchester United defender”.

The Norwegian’s third new signing, fleet-heeled substitute Dan James, scored on his debut and celebrated with abandon and emotion in front of his friends and family.

“The boy is exactly what you want from a professional,” said his manager. “He’s got skills and his pace but he’s worked so hard.

"He had a summer of ups and downs (James’ father passed away just before he signed for United from Swansea) as we know, but to score on a debut at the Stretford End was a very good moment for him.”

It was Solskjaer’s biggest win since his side bagged five in his opening game at Cardiff City in December and one achieved with a team where five of the starting line-up, as well as two of the substitutes, coming from the club’s academy.

United were fast, they counter attacked from box to box with pace. Paul Pogba, deployed as a deep lying midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation, made defence splitting passes, one of which led directly to Rashford scoring United’s third.

The huge crowd helped players who were exhausted after implementing Solskjaer’s energetic high pressing game, roaring their young players forward in an open game.

By the end, the Stretford End was interspersing chant of ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’ with every touch of the ball. It was as unexpected as the 4-1 opening day win against Arsenal 30 years ago.

Then, the optimism was misplaced as the team began to slump and finished 13th.

Nobody expects this team to finish 13th, nor challenge for the title, but there was so much to be positive about as they gave Frank Lampard a shock in his first game as Chelsea manager.

“We know it’s just the start,” said Solskjaer of his young charges. “we know we have relationships to work on. The more we understand each other the more we will improve.”

United needed to start this season with a win – and just as the player I spoke to said – they smashed Chelsea to begin with a bang.

Updated: August 12, 2019 08:26 AM

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