No United boss in history had ever won all six of his first six games in charge, not even the legendary Sir Matt Busby, whose winning streak stopped at five after a 1-1 draw against Chelsea in September 1946. But Solskjaer now has.
After exclusively playing bottom half opposition, or lower league in the case of Reading in the FA Cup, it was a different kind of game for United, one that proved the 45-year-old Norwegian has done more as manager than simply smile at a few people and pat players on the back.
There were clear tactical instructions after last week’s training camp in Dubai and United spent the first half exploiting Tottenham’s defensive weakness in wide areas. The reward came when Marcus Rashford scored what proved to be the winning goal shortly before half-time.
“The manager told us that at the beginning of the game it would be difficult to make short passes. He told us that it would be easier for us to switch the play and to look – almost without looking – to the other side of the pitch to switch the ball, because that is where we were going to find spaces,” Ander Herrera remarked, via ManUtd.com, after the game.
“We scored like that, so thank you to the game plan as well,” the midfielder added.
United could easily have scored more early in the second half as Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris twice saved well to deny international teammate Paul Pogba from doubling the lead.
Spurs then gained a foothold in the game and it took numerous important saves from David de Gea – 11 in total – to keep the home side out. But to suggest, as critics have, that Spurs ‘would have won by four or five’ had it not been for the Spaniard is blinkered, nonsensical and unfair.
As Solskjaer rightly pointed out afterwards, “You are allowed to have a good goalkeeper.”
The bizarre criticism that stems from every top De Gea performance seems to suggest otherwise, as if having a good goalkeeper is rather immoral and a cheat because a good team shouldn’t need one.
United were resilient as a team and the fact that Mauricio Pochettino later called the second half the best 45 minutes he had seen from Spurs during his whole four-and-a-half year spell at the club speaks volumes. In other words, this wasn’t merely giving up chances to some mediocre team.
Having previously beaten Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Newcastle and Reading, the result was proof that Solskjaer can do more than inspire United to victory against lowly opposition. He beat a big rival away from home – Spurs only lost twice at home in 2016/17 and 2017/18 combined.
Now that a big test is out of the way, United can once more look ahead to what looks to be a more favourable fixture list. The club’s next four Premier League games are against Brighton (H), Burnley (H), Leicester (A) and Fulham (A), all distinctly winnable if the last four weeks are anything to go by.
In amongst that, United must contend with an FA Cup fourth round tie away at Arsenal, a game the team certainly shouldn’t be scared of after getting the better of a Spurs side superior to the Gunners, while the Champions League returns when Paris Saint-Germain visit in mid-February.
The weekend of the 16th/17th February is scheduled for the FA Cup fifth round, with Liverpool then set to visit Old Trafford a week later. United were soundly beaten 3-1 at Anfield in December in what proved to be Jose Mourinho’s final fixture in charge and will hope to exact revenge, as well as dent the Merseysiders’ title hopes, this time around.
The Solskjaer reign, with all the momentum built so far and hopefully still to come, will be nine weeks old by that point. There is nothing to say that United cannot win another six games on the spin over the coming weeks and go into that Liverpool clash fully back in business as far as the top four is concerned and altogether feeling on top of the world.