At the beginning of the week, Manchester United fans were hoping for two wins but fearful of none. Not many fans would have believed they would be ending the four day period with six points.
And these weren’t just any games. A convincing win against top-four competitors Tottenham was a big enough result in itself. But to follow that up with a victory against their fierce rivals in the Manchester derby was almost unthinkable.
Nobody gave Solskjaer’s side a hope on their visit to the Etihad, but there was quiet confidence about the Red Devils following their midweek triumph.
The wins came at a time when pressure was beginning to build on the United boss and the first murmurings of discontent became apparent amongst the fans. Six points have eliminated any negativity and support for the Norwegian is now stronger than ever.
Manchester is red
An electric opening 30 minutes from United’s attack put them in the driving seat. Goals from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial gave the Reds a 2-0 lead, which was the least they deserved. Some excellent goalkeeping from Ederson and the help of the crossbar were the only reason United didn’t go into the break three or four up.
The City dominance began early in the second half, but United’s back four stood strong. They rode their luck at times and made last-ditch blocks on several occasions which were all enough to see them take all three points despite the late goal from substitute Nicolas Otamendi.
It came as a shock to most. Solskjaer’s side have struggled on the road this season with only one win away from home prior to the derby. However, a pattern is beginning to emerge with this United team – they rise to the occasion.
Solskjaer’s big game team
Their record against the top six this season has been sensational, with the results against the lesser sides the reason they remain off the pace in the league table. Wins against Chelsea, Leicester, Spurs, and City have shown that Solskjaer tends to get it right in the big games.
Together with those wins and a draw against Arsenal, United are the only team to take points off Liverpool in the league this season, in a game where it can be argued they were the better side.
The results this week leave United just 5 points off the Champions League places and in fine form. Rashford has added consistency to his game and looks undroppable at times. Daniel James’ pace is a threat to any team in the country and Jesse Lingard looks to have found some form and brought energy to the number 10 role, which United have sorely missed.
There is also no surprise that the return of Scott McTominay from injury has coincided with stronger performances. The young Scot is an emerging leader on the pitch, and he adds stability and composure to what has been a hectic United midfield.
That being said, in recent weeks an unexpected player has been receiving a lot of praise. It looked like Fred was simply filling in the gaps whilst Solskjaer waited for the return of Paul Pogba. However, the Brazilian has had the best spell of his United career of late and has established himself as a key player.
The box-to-box midfielder’s desire to shut the opposition down and his tenacity in the tackle is something United fans have grown to adore. He may not be the best technically, but you could never fault his work rate and appetite to win the ball.
What’s next for the Reds?
With a busy Christmas period approaching, it is crucial that Solskjaer rotates and keeps the whole squad fit.
A visit from Dutch side Alkmaar is first on the list. United only need a point to top their Europa League group so we can expect to see a rotated side from the one that beat Spurs and City. There is also a Carabao Cup tie against Colchester sandwiched between Premier League games where Solskjaer will likely give the teenagers another chance to prove themselves.
United’s remaining league fixtures of 2019 see them go head to head with Everton, Watford, Newcastle, and Burnley (Man Utd).
With the attacking threat they have shown of late, coupled with confidence-boosting wins against rivals, fans will be hopeful they can take all 12 points. At a time of year when fixtures come thick and fast, many teams tend to slip up.
If United can win all four games, they give themselves a good chance of closing the gap on the top four or even sneaking into it.
It is another important few weeks for Solskjaer, but the last five days have filled the fans with hope and given the players a boost in confidence. The culture he has been trying implement in the club seems to be starting to pay dividends, and he will be hoping it continues long into the New Year.