The Ole Gunnar Solskjaer revival at Manchester United continued with a Boxing Day knockout delivered to Huddersfield, makeing it successive wins for the caretaker manager.
Despite their travails in recent years, December 26 remains a traditionally happy day for the Red Devils. They have not lost a home game on Boxing Day since 1978/79, with the 3-1 win over the Terriers stretching that run to 18 (15 wins, three draws).
Here, we assess three talking points from the game.
GOOD PLAYERS, BAD MANAGER
If Jose Mourinho is to be believed, he was the fall guy in the hopeless position of being in charge of an undisciplined, unruly rabble of talentless prima donnas.
Sure, this United squad is still in need of a new player or two. But an overhaul is required if you took Mourinho’s word – as well as those of a myriad of critics and fans – for it.
Mourinho desperately craved a centre-back of some standing in the summer but wasn’t backed financially. Early season performances suggested he was correct.
Yet in two displays under Solskjaer – admittedly against two teams battling the drop – Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones have looked composed and commanding.
Often derided throughout his fledgling United career as a comedy figure in a crumbling United defence, Lindelof was nevertheless excellent at the World Cup for Sweden alongside captain Andreas Granqvist – who looks like a bricklayer.
Here he laid another building block in the hope of restoring his once burgeoning reputation, alongside the excellent Jones.
Against Cardiff his foray across the halfway line caught the attention and should have resulted in a one-two being played with Marcus Rashford and a possible goal.
Against Huddersfield, he was also a feature in attack and it was his attacking header which led to the opening goal for Nemanja Matic. His is just one example of a player in need of simply being built up rather than torn down.
ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK
A chant that is almost gospel at Old Trafford, yet one fans feared might have been lost from the famous United hymn book forever.
A simple yet famous shout which would oft rain down from the terraces when supporters in the Sir Alex Ferguson era thought their team needed encouragement or a stern reminder to adhere to the club’s core values.
It has been heard in hushed tones over the last few years, more in hope rather than expectation, as swashbuckling style has been replaced on the pitch by stagnant suffering.
When United weren’t struggling to break increasingly bold and determined yet limited teams down or being outclassed by the big sides at home, Jose Mourinho would frustratingly opt to sit on slender leads rather than blow visiting teams away at Old Trafford, as was customary under Ferguson.
But as soon as Huddersfield’s resistance was broken on Boxing Day, the Red Devils started to strut around their ring, looking to land as many shots as they could, ultimately trying to find the killer blow.
They were frustrated initially as the dogged Terriers dug in, but when Solskjaer turned to the bench, it was attacking solutions rather than an insurance policy he looked for.
He was rewarded with another resounding win and performance. It was a refreshing return to tradition for a raucous Old Trafford.
POGBA FINALLY LETS FEET DO THE TALKING
Regardless of improved attitudes and refreshing tactics, many United fans will be unable to shake the question: Where were the performances of the last two games under Mourinho?
The chief target of their ire will be Paul Pogba – the undeniably talented talisman of the team, whose disintegrating relationship with his former boss was too often bitterly and embarrassingly dragged out into the public sphere.
Much has been made of this apparently being one of the least talented squads in club history. But is that really a valid talking point when you count the likes of Pogba, Rashford, Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, David De Gea, Luke Shaw and Juan Mata among the stellar cast of names?
Contrast that with ageing Ferdinand, Vidic and Carrick, unruly Rooney, unfulfilled talent in Welbeck, Cleverley and Anderson who lifted their last title in Ferguson’s final season – United’s 20th title success was stitched together mainly by Robin van Persie’s brilliance. Is there really much difference between the two?
As the two wins under Solskjaer have shown, this United squad is packed with ability. Hunger, heart and hard work which were all hallmarks of Ferguson’s teams is what has chiefly been missing. But the last two games are proof it can be coaxed.
Pogba is the undoubted leader of the rabble and the club and Solskjaer requires him to now come to the fore.
The fact he’s been involved in four goals in two games under the Norwegian (two goals, two assists) – the same amount he registered in his last 12 games under Mourinho (one goal, three assists) – suggest he is ready to answer the call.
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