Once upon a time Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the baby-faced assassin, with the schoolboy looks and the deadly finishing skills, in a Manchester United side sweeping all before them under the tutelage of the great Sir Alex Ferguson.
But, one year on from being handed the manager’s job at United, Solskjaer still has a lot of convincing to do as the Red Devils struggle to challenge at the top end.
To mark the occasion The Sportsman brings you Solskjaer’s End of Year Report...
Ole’s accumulation has been satisfactory but he is yet to prove he would be able to hold his own in the top set
Solskjaer has recorded some magnificent results during his 12 months in charge, with victories over the likes of Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City being achieved. Then, of course, there was that famous night in Paris as United overturned a 2-0 first-leg defeat to stun Paris Saint-Germain.
But those have not been backed up with positive results against more beatable opposition. Six games without a win at the end of 2018/19 condemned United to the Europa League this season, with an absolute tanning at the hands of Everton and defeats to the likes of Cardiff City, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth being typical of Solskjaer’s reign.
As a result, United are currently in sixth place in the Premier League, well adrift of the title picture. And that is exactly where they found themselves when Ole first walked into his new office at Carrington.
Ole is excelling in history. His knowledge of, and adherence to, Manchester United’s past is class-leading
Solskjaer has been nothing if not true to the traditions of the club, with an increased focus on youth development being prominent since the Norwegian took over. The promotion of Mason Greenwood to the first team has been a bright spot, while the gradual elevations of the likes of Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes, James Garner and latterly Brandon Williams have ensured that United’s links to their academy remain strong.
Of 13 players to be given their United debut in the last 12 months, only Harry Maguire was over the age of 21, and Solskjaer has taken every available opportunity to extol the virtues of giving younger players plenty of chances to impress.
Whatever Solskjaer does or doesn’t achieve at United the club’s future, in terms of the playing staff at least, appears bright.
Ole’s hypotheses are generally solid but he fails to find the correct conclusion often enough
Solskjaer sets his United side up ready to hit teams on the counter-attack at every opportunity, but they only seem to be able to pull it off when playing against big sides who fancy themselves to dominate possession. That gives them the opportunity to exploit space in the opposition’s half.
Against the lesser lights who are more ready to bide their time and sit in a low block, Solskjaer has found it difficult to come up with a way of breaking down the stubborn defences United have faced. Their inconsistency also appears to be a natural by-product of their reliance on younger players.
The inability to dominate in midfield has been a real issue at times too, with the likes of Scott McTominay, Fred and Andreas Pereira asked to dictate the pace of play in an engine room previously manned by players of the ability of Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Roy Keane.
Ole has shown a certain aptitude in the business market, making a number of deals which have pleased assessors
Large portions of Manchester United’s fan base were crying out for changes in early 2018/19. Marouane Fellaini was considered too rudimentary an option under Jose Mourinho, while Romelu Lukaku struggled for goals and Alexis Sanchez was a flat-out failure.
Solskjaer addressed all of those issues and more, selling Fellaini and Lukaku before allowing Sanchez to try to find his form with Inter, while Chris Smalling was loaned out and Matteo Darmian released to cut some of the fat in defence.
In came Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James as the club’s new rhetoric about giving young British talent a chance was backed up. There is, however, a gaping hole in midfield that Solskjaer and the board failed to address over the summer, meaning United might have to go into the unpopular January transfer window in order to inject some hope into their push for a Champions League spot this season.
Ole has struggled with geography this year, failing to record a positive mark in 11 consecutive tests away from home
For a man whose first nine away games resulted in nine wins, the last of which came in toppling Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes, Solskjaer’s record on the road is actually pretty derisory on the whole.
That PSG game was soon followed by defeats at Arsenal and Wolves (twice), and heavy beatings by Barcelona and Everton, and when they stumbled into the new season with chastening away days against West Ham and Newcastle they had racked up a total of 11 successive trips without recording a single win.
Their away form has picked up somewhat, with Chelsea and Manchester City both beaten on their own patch in recent times but another reverse at Bournemouth helped to underline the fact that teams revel in hosting United these days.