Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first few months in the Manchester United hotseat had some people thinking he was the answer to the club’s many problems.
The Norwegian almost won all of them, drawing the other, whilst swatting teams aside and being able to coax genuine consistency out of the likes of Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, who seemed like lost causes under Jose Mourinho.
Had the Red Devils cracked it? Was their former fox-in-the-box actually the managerial reincarnate of Sir Alex Ferguson?
One point separated City and Liverpool but twenty-five separated them from the rest! Fans discuss who could reduce the deficit next season in the video below?
He had only previously managed Molde and Cardiff, and most people involved in football would have been able to tell you that his early success would be a mere flash in the pan based on no substance whatsoever; someone forgot to tell United that, however, and they handed him a three-year deal.
To compare Solskjaer’s first ten games to his last 10 in all competitions, while he began his stint with nine wins and a draw – 5-1 win over Cardiff being his first game – the Norwegian won just two games and lost six as the season drew to a disappointing close.
But why? What changed?
Well, to start off with, Solskjaer didn’t really face a serious challenge in his first ten games. He picked up wins over Cardiff, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Reading, Brighton and Leicester, and also drew to Burnley.
To make matters worse, those wins weren’t on the basis of a sustained, effective plan, but more down to fortuitous circumstances, proven by the wheels coming off at the end of the campaign.
Everyone was fit. Everyone was happy that Mourinho had gone. And most importantly, everyone had their confidence back and had the freedom to express themselves; Solskjaer physically couldn’t do any worse than the Portuguese boss had done in his final weeks at the club.
Man Utd under Solskjaer
Expected Goals 29.8
Goals Conceded 13
Expected Goals Against 21.3
Games played 17
Penalties won 7
— Orbinho (@Orbinho) March 6, 2019
As of the 6th of March – admittedly after his first ten games had been played – United’s expected goals were down by almost 10 in comparison to their actual amount of goals scored, which suggests that they were performing well above the level they should’ve realistically been at. In short, it was unsustainable.
At the other end of the pitch in defence, United were expected to have 21.3 goals go past them, although in reality, they conceded just 13; again, this was unsustainable and showed that opponents were creating enough to beat them.
The Red Devils were also awarded seven penalties before the 6th of March, which helped make their actual goals in comparison to expected goals look a little bit easier on the eye.
In the last ten games, Solskjaer picked up just two wins having come up against considerably harder opponents.
The Norwegian faced off against some of Europe’s elite clubs in Manchester City, Barcelona and Chelsea and ended up losing six of the last 10 games of the campaign whilst drawing two.
Along with the fact that the quality of opponent was ramped up in comparison to his first 10 matches in charge, a number of other factors have to be taken into account.
After reports emerged towards the end of March linking star man Paul Pogba with a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid, the Frenchman’s form tailed off massively and consequently saw United’s level of performance suffer too.
Since being linked with the switch to the Spanish capital, Pogba hit just two goals from then until the end of the season; both of those came in the same game, a narrow 2-1 win over West Ham.
Given the fact that the former Juventus man was arguably one of the main catalysts behind United’s revival post-Mourinho, any dip in form from the midfielder would have been bound to negatively affect the whole team, and so it did.
Furthermore, Solskjaer also saw some important players crippled with injury problems, but none more damaging to results than Ander Herrera.
The Spaniard, who has since announced that he will be leaving the club, is the only one of his kind at Old Trafford in the dogged, determined way that he sets about winning the ball back and distributing it wisely; he was Solskjaer’s N’Golo Kante.
So, when a hamstring injury forced the former Athletic Bilbao man off against Liverpool in late February, it would prove to be a monumental blow for Solskjaer and United as he managed to appear in just four games throughout the remainder of the campaign.
All of these individuals factors proved too much for Solskjaer to handle, and completely tore apart the arguments that could’ve been made to justify his appointment on a permanent basis.
It was unbelievably foolish of the Red Devils to jump the gun and hand him a contract as long as a three-year one after a decent run of form in which everything fell into place for the former Molde man; surely they should’ve waited until a rainy day arrived to see how Solskjaer would stand against the tide?
Solskjaer really was riding the crest of a wave at Old Trafford whilst the shackles of Mourinho were taken away from his players’ legs, but it was never going to last.
It was a ‘new manager bounce’, the type we see relegation candidates enjoy momentarily before their actual state of incompetence and inferiority resumes and normality is restored.