Yep. A controversial time to say this. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has just lead Manchester United through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in spectacular circumstances whilst making history, becoming the first team to come back from a two goal home defeat to win the tie.
That made it nine away wins in a row for United under Solskjaer and he is yet to lose a Premier League game as United manager meaning he is surely a shoe-in for the permanent gig as Manchester United gaffer. The players love him, the fans love him, he is getting the results - this has been the best appointment of an interim manager in recent history and it is now just a matter of time before the United board give the Norwegian the job on a permanent basis.
Pundits such as Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville were gushing for Solskjaer to be given the full-time job after the whistle, with the former right-back even joking they could build a statue of Ole at Old Trafford. However, you cannot argue that his side were incredibly lucky in Paris with every one of their goals and they could easily have slipped out of the Champions League last night.
Lukaku’s first came from a defensive error, his second came from a rare Gigi Buffon error whilst VAR gave them slightly more than a helping hand for the winner. There is no doubt the feel-good factor is flowing through United right now and Solskjaer has lifted the grey cloud that was hanging over the club under Jose Mourinho, but will this lead to long-term success?
One way of seeing how ‘lucky’ Manchester United are being right now is to look into their expected goals. This statistic show that under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, United are scoring far more goals and conceding less than they should, given the chances they have created and conceded.
The Red Devils have scored 39 goals under the Norwegian when their ‘Expected Goals For’ is just 29.8, whilst they have conceded just 13 when their ‘Expected Goals Against’ figure is 21.3. This shows United’s results are better than the should be given the data and that over a longer period of time, their current exceptional form, will drop off.
Expected Goals 29.8
Goals Conceded 13
Expected Goals Against 21.3
Games played 17
Penalties won 7
Having said that, David De Gea is a fantastic goalkeeper who over the past three seasons has always exceeded his expected goals conceded, given his obvious talent. The high number of penalties United have been awarded under Solskjaer are also above the average, having been awarded seven in their 17 games under their new manager.
In comparison to Jose Mourinho’s reign, they were awarded six in 24 games. Comparing the expected goals under their former boss and you can see it was much closer. This season under the Portuguese manager they scored 38 when they were expected to scored 35 but they conceded 35 when they were expected to concede 33.8.
I am a big fan of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the job he has done at United has been nothing short of sensational. BUT, and it is a big but, I still believe that United would be better off appointing someone like Mauricio Pochettino in the summer, rather than Solskjaer, as harsh as that would be for the Norwegian.
There do seem to be some parallels between Solskjaer’s reign and the one of Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea. Di Matteo took over after Andre Villas-Boas had been sacked by Chelsea and amazingly lead them Champions League glory, beating Bayern Munich in a dramatic final.
He also scooped the FA Cup in the same year, something that is still up for grabs for Solskjaer at United this season, and was quickly given the permanent job at the conclusion of the season. However, things quickly turned sour for the new gaffer and his was sacked in November after a loss to Juventus in the Champions League.
United must learn from these lessons of the past and make sure they have the right man for the job before making him permanent manager. There is no harm in assessing their options in summer with the side currently flying under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.