Can Ole do another Ole? Under-fire Man United boss has a habit of pulling a rabbit out of a hat… but after his ‘darkest day’ against Liverpool Solskjaer must save himself from the sack yet again
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under serious pressure after 5-0 thrashing by Liverpool
- Man United manager is safe in his job for now but needs instant improvement
- His team make the trip to Tottenham next with Atalanta and Man City to come
- But Solskjaer has a track record of getting a reaction from his United players
- On several occasions, setbacks have been followed by a positive set of results
The man whose late heroics won Manchester United the Treble in 1999 has proved quite adept at pulling rabbits out of hats as their manager as well.
On more than one occasion since taking charge in December 2018, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has appeared to be on the ropes and in fear of losing his job.
Yet on each occasion he has somehow managed to conjure a series of positive results, often in United’s biggest games of the season, to flip the mood and save himself.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a good track record of getting a response from his Man United side
Bruno Fernandes (left) and Cristiano Ronaldo during Sunday’s 5-0 defeat to Liverpool
But none of those previous situations have been quite as grave as the one Solskjaer currently finds himself in.
Sunday’s 5-0 thrashing at the hands of bitter rivals Liverpool, a third Premier League defeat in four, left the United manager under severe pressure.
Solskjaer however, has been handed a stay of execution and everyone at Old Trafford will be desperately hoping he come up with another dramatic change of fortunes, starting with this Saturday’s visit to Tottenham.
We take a look back at the previous occasions Solskjaer has dug United out of a hole during his time as their manager.
February/March 2019 – Two dates with Paris
Solskjaer enjoyed one of the longest honeymoons of any manager ever after he was appointed United’s interim boss following the acrimonious exit of Jose Mourinho.
He liberated the team tactically and they responded with an 11-match unbeaten run to restore the feel-good factor.
But a brutal reminder of how far United had fallen behind came when Paris Saint-Germain won 2-0 at Old Trafford in February 2019.
United were outclassed and it was Solskjaer’s first taste of defeat in his dream job, a bucket of cold water on the burning optimism their revival had generated.
Solskjaer suffered his first setback as United’s interim boss when PSG won at Old Trafford
His response was very strong, however. In between the two legs of his Champions League last-16 tie, United won 2-0 at Chelsea in the FA Cup, drew with Liverpool and beat Crystal Palace and then Southampton.
It suggested that Solskjaer had already restored some of the old United resilience that went missing after Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
But the best was yet to come as United pulled off a miraculous comeback to win their tie with PSG.
Against all odds, United managed to turn the tie around with Marcus Rashford settling it
They needed to score three times and did just that, with two goals from Romelu Lukaku before Marcus Rashford’s dramatic stoppage time penalty took them into the quarter-finals against all odds.
It was enough to persuade the Old Trafford hierarchy that Solskjaer deserved the job full-time, a decision that soon started to look pretty hasty after they won just two of the 12 games between that point and the end of the season.
Solskjaer, soon to be given the job permanently, salutes the travelling United fans in Paris
December 2019 – Winning the big games
That disappointing finish to the 2018-19 season continued into the following campaign. United beat Chelsea 4-0 on the opening day but then struggled and by early November had already lost league games to Crystal Palace, West Ham, Newcastle and Bournemouth.
They went to Sheffield United and were outplayed for over an hour, trailing 2-0, before mounting one of those classic comebacks to score three times in seven minutes. The game ultimately finished 3-3.
A week later, United could only draw at home to Aston Villa and serious questions were being posed as to whether Solskjaer had been given the position too readily.
Solskjaer’s tactics and game plans were rightly being called into question and it was evident several players weren’t responding to the manager.
United were struggling at the start of 2019-20 with Sheffield United exposing weaknesses
Speaking ahead of a home game with Tottenham, managed by who other than Mourinho, Solskjaer described as ‘lies’ suggestions he would be sacked if United lost.
But just when he needed a brilliant performance, he got one as United beat Spurs 2-1.
Marcus Rashford scored both goals, the winner from the penalty spot, with United superior and the crowd vocally signalling their support for Ole.
Solskjaer got the desired response as Marcus Rashford’s goals sunk Tottenham at Old Trafford
It offered a reprieve and also some momentum, which United duly took to Manchester City that weekend. Playing to their counter-attacking strengths at the Etihad, United won 2-1 against the defending champions, with Rashford and Martial on target.
It proved conclusively that Solskjaer was tactically astute enough in the bigger games, devising a smart game plan that Pep Guardiola’s players had no answer to.
Those wins over Spurs and City, in the space of four days, kept the wolf from the door – for a while.
Harry Maguire, Daniel James and Scott McTominay celebrate United’s 2-1 win at Man City
January 2020 onwards – A long unbeaten run
Solskjaer was feeling the heat again early last year when back-to-back losses to Liverpool and Burnley left United sweating on their Champions League place.
The team were jeered off following the dire 2-0 defeat to the Clarets, who won at Old Trafford for the first time in the Premier League.
Many were questioning how long Solskjaer would last but against all expectations, the team embarked on a 19-match unbeaten run in all competitions either side of the Covid shutdown.
Old Trafford voted with its feet by leaving early as United lost 2-0 at home to Burnley
That included noteworthy wins away to Man City in the Carabao Cup and at home in the league, a 2-0 win at Chelsea and some performances post-restart in which lesser opponents were just blown away.
United became the Premier League’s in-form side during the second half of the season and would finish third, albeit a large distance behind champions Liverpool and runners-up City.
Harry Maguire was on target as United won 2-0 at Chelsea, part of a long unbeaten sequence
They would also reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup and Europa League, losing to Chelsea and Sevilla respectively, as silverware continued to elude Solskjaer.
But the long unbeaten run was a reminder of what could be accomplished under the manager when the team clicked and located some momentum.
It turned into a passable season for Solskjaer when the sack looked a very real possibility more than once.
United put in some good performances post-restart with nobody in the stadium to see them
October 2020 – Recovering from being hit for six
United started last season dreadfully and Mourinho well and truly gained his revenge with a 6-1 thumping of United at Old Trafford in early October.
It was a day when everything possible went wrong for Solskjaer, with Anthony Martial sent off for an ill-advised reaction to Erik Lamela and their defence ripped open time after time.
One small consolation was the absence of a 75,000-strong crowd to witness it with fans still locked out amid the Covid pandemic.
The scoreboard tells the story as United are hit for six at home by Tottenham in October 2020
It was the heaviest defeat since Fergie retired and once again we wondered if Solskjaer could weather the storm.
He did, the result made to look like an anomaly by the four match unbeaten sequence that followed it.
United went to Newcastle and won 4-1, memorably won away to PSG once again in the Champions League group stage, held Chelsea goalless and then thrashed RB Leipzig 5-0 with one of the best attacking performances seen at Old Trafford for several years.
There was a great response to that result, however, including a 5-0 demolition of RB Leipzig
The 6-1 result happened just prior to the October international break, so Solskjaer had plenty of time to dwell on what went wrong, which can be a blessing or a curse.
When the players returned from representing their countries, the mood had shifted and some excellent results followed.
November 2020 – Istanbul indignity
All that came crashing to a halt the following month when United lost 1-0 at home to Arsenal and then 2-1 away to Istanbul Basaksehir in the space of four days.
Having apparently done all the hard work by beating PSG and Leipzig, to then lose to the supposed minnows of the group was unacceptable.
The manner of the opening goal was truly shocking as United’s defence went totally AWOL to allow Demba Ba all the space he needed to run through and score.
United’s defenders were left playing catch up as they were stunned by Istanbul Basaksehir
Solskjaer’s team were very much Jekyll and Hyde and you never knew which United were going to turn up. Performances fluctuated wildly from the absolutely brilliant to the truly abysmal.
On this occasion, they bounced back with four consecutive wins over Everton, West Brom, Basaksehir in the return game and Southampton.
These were good results but masked average performances at times. United needed a Bruno Fernandes penalty to overcome West Brom at home and a comeback from two-down to win at Southampton thanks to Edinson Cavani’s 90th-minute winner.
Four straight wins followed including one at Southampton after Edinson Cavani’s heroics
December 2020 – Getting over the Champions League exit
Despite three wins from their first four games, United would not make it through their Champions League group.
A 3-1 home defeat to PSG was followed up by a shocking 3-2 loss to Leipzig, seeing them slip into the Europa League.
The failure to make it through from such an early position of strength was a major blot on Solskjaer’s copy book.
United were sent crashing out of the Champions League after the group stage by Leipzig
There was a strong response, however, with United even topping the league in January
But once again, there was a strong reaction. In the league, United went unbeaten in their next nine games, lifting themselves top of the table by late January and just for a short while, there was the flicker of a title challenge.
It was just another example of how Solskjaer always seems to get a good reaction from his team when in adversity.
The question now is, after what the manager described as his ‘darkest day’, can Ole do another Ole?
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