Football: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's honeymoon continues

Marcus Rashford scoring the only goal of the match (left) on Sunday, after receiving a pin-point pass from Paul Pogba (below), who has been enjoying a rich vein of form under United's interim coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Marcus Rashford scoring the only goal of the match (above) on Sunday, after receiving a pin-point pass from Paul Pogba, who has been enjoying a rich vein of form under United's interim coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.PHOTO: REUTERS
Marcus Rashford scoring the only goal of the match (left) on Sunday, after receiving a pin-point pass from Paul Pogba (below), who has been enjoying a rich vein of form under United's interim coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Marcus Rashford scoring the only goal of the match on Sunday, after receiving a pin-point pass from Paul Pogba (above), who has been enjoying a rich vein of form under United's interim coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Given the freedom to roam, Red Devils win their sixth straight match under Solskjaer

LONDON • Paul Pogba took another swipe at Jose Mourinho on Sunday by thanking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for giving him the attacking freedom to enjoy his football again.

The France midfielder created the only goal of the game for Marcus Rashford with a wonderful pass as Manchester United extended their remarkable run under their interim manager with a 1-0 Premier League away win over Tottenham.

Solskjaer now has six straight wins - the best start of any United manager - and their turnaround since Mourinho's firing has coincided with a series of match-winning displays from Pogba, who has been given a licence to roam "like Frank Lampard".

Declaring after their Spurs victory he was now "always smiling" as "it was a pleasure to play again", he told reporters: "Before the coach arrived, I was in the shadows, on the bench, and I accepted that.

"I am enjoying playing my football now. I like to be more attacking, I had to defend too much before and that is not my best attribute. This is my position. The manager tells me to get into the box and score goals.

"Everything comes when you are free and you have the trust of the manager and the players, so they make it easier for me as well.

"I know (Nemanja) Matic is there. I know we can press high and, when we get the ball, I can shoot, I can pass and that's what we have been doing since the new manager came in. I have security behind me and have freedom to go, so it helps me."

And if Wembley was an audition for the permanent United role, Solskjaer is surely closer to a callback at the Theatre of Dreams after impressing against Mauricio Pochettino, the man widely tipped as the front runner.

He demonstrated his ability to do the job long term and showed there is science behind the smiles, displaying acuity by exploiting Spurs' vulnerability out wide when they start with a midfield diamond.

Pogba lauded Solskjaer's tactics, insisting he deserved equal credit for the pass that teed up Rashford, saying: "It's a great ball but we've been training for this all week because we knew this was the weakness of Tottenham.

"When they attack one side, they get very high and we need to attack on the opposite side. We knew we could hurt them in this way and we worked on it."

Pochettino abandoned the shape in the second half, switching to a 4-2-3-1, and Solskjaer could not check the shift in momentum, with only the excellence of David de Gea preventing Spurs from not just levelling but winning.

  • 6

  • Consecutive wins Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has guided Manchester United to, the best of any new manager at the helm of the 20-time English champions.

The Spain No. 1, who later sounded a warning to the rest of the league that they were now seeing "the real United", made 11 saves after the break - more than any other goalkeeper has made in 90 minutes this term - to deny Spurs, and Solskjaer felt he could be the greatest to put on gloves at Old Trafford.

He said: "We've had some great 'keepers at this club and he's challenging both Edwin (van der Sar) and Peter (Schmeichel) for the No. 1 spot historically."

The Norwegian also insisted afterwards the win would have no bearing on his future despite the presence of most of United's power brokers, including executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, former chief executive David Gill and former manager Alex Ferguson in London.

"This game was never about me and him," Solskjaer said of his Argentinian counterpart. "For us, it's three points. We had to beat them today so we had a chance to catch them. Seven points is catchable, 13 would have been impossible.

"I'm just doing my job until my contract runs out at the end of June. The win was massive. Results like this give you confidence."

While de Gea thwarted Spurs' bid to record a first league double over United since the 1989-1990 season, Pochettino showed little sign of disappointment, lauding his side for "one of the best performances that I saw since I've been here and the best 45 minutes (after half-time)".

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2019, with the headline 'Honeymoon continues'. Print Edition | Subscribe