Manchester United’s post-Mourinho world boasts confidence but is not without niggles - (2021)
If this carries on Manchester United might have to take the candidacy of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seriously. Under the great Norwegian revivalist United present as Manchester’s favourite new combo, the Happy Sundays. There is no point telling United fans not to get carried away. Compared to the torpor of the recent past they are all high as kites on the free-scoring joy of it all.
The players are no less cockahoop than the fans. This was Pogba’s testimony. “To finish the year like that is beautiful. Maybe we have just realised that we are Manchester United and we need to be at the top of the league. You've seen the reaction of the players. Everyone is enjoying themselves and that's what we need.”
The boot to the Mourinho solar plexus was explicit. “It's different. We still won some games with the old manager, it's just a different style of play. We are more offensive, we create more chances, play higher. So this is how we want to play. We want to attack. the manager wants to attack. And that's what we are doing on the pitch.”
Pogba’s love for Solskjaer is reciprocated. “That was a top, top performance for a midfielder. His work rate, a danger in box, he wins headers, tackles and no showboating. It is an efficient game. Paul knows he is at his best when he plays like that. We want all the players to express themselves within framework of how we want the team to play.”
That’s 12 goals in three matches since old misery guts took his bus home. Paul Pogba helped himself to two goals for the second game running. Marcus Rashford has become an amalgam of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and Romelu Lukaku found the net within minutes of his first exposure to the Solskjaer dreamscape.
United continue to be a storyline far removed from the real stuff of the Premier League, of course. And if there is one thing worse than City being the dogs' doodahs, it's Liverpool being even better than them. There is a generation of red souls forever scarred by the post-Best Law Charlton trauma that was the early Seventies. Six years after winning the European Cup United were playing second tier football.
Further investment needed
Jose Mourinho was never going to get United relegated. Nevertheless in the sixth year of the post-Fergie dystopia he was bringing Old Trafford down. The Mourinho-free world is still a fragile space peppered with uncertainties. It will take time for this team to rid itself of that nagging voice threatening all kinds of misery in Portuguese. And the club requires world class reinforcements in key positions.
United remain weak at the back. A commanding centre back is vital to bring a sense of calm and to tell Eric Bailly where to stand. There is equal need of a playmaker to knit the marvelous speed and derring do of Anthony Martial and Rashford. Juan Mata no longer has the legs and Jesse Lingard, who does, simply cannot see the pitch in the same creative way as Mata.
Read more: Man United transfer targets: 5 signings Solskjaer could make in January
By being organised when opportunity allowed Bournemouth were able to trouble United. Only two clean sheets in the Premier League all season is a feature that will continue to undermine the obvious attacking flair when they are confronted by better teams.
Nathan Ake found it far too easy to pierce the United shield with a free header for the Bournemouth goal and before that he forced a save from David De Gea that the keeper knew little about, again with his napper. Going forward United are unrecognisable from the containment imposed by Mourinho.
Fresh and fluid
Rashford, one of the few to manage any expression in the Mourinho period was unplayable, ransacking Ake and Diego Rico to set up Pogba’s first goal and convert Martial’s exotic pass for the third. Pogba was again mightily impressive, his telescopic leg helping the ball into the net for the opener and his head imparting Nat Lofthouse power for his second. Somewhere in the world Mourinho was screaming at the telly demanding to know why Pogba was the furthest red shirt forward.
And all this after Bournemouth cheekily asked United to attack the Stretford End first up. They might not prod the bear like that again.
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