The mood at Manchester United appeared low when Jose Mourinho departed in December. Just 13 Premier League matches and several Ole Gunnar Solskjaer grins later, the Red Devils are flying.
The contrast between United under Mourinho and the same side with Solskjaer is stark, but just what has the Old Trafford favourite done to turn the tide?
We take a look at four key steps Solskjaer took in his interim tenure that got results on track, won back the fans and finally secured the full-time job.
PLAYED RASHFORD THROUGH THE MIDDLE
The huge amount of money invested in Romelu Lukaku saw the striker remain an automatic choice for Mourinho even as his form wavered. Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford – one of European football’s top talents – did not appear to be trusted.
The United academy graduate still played but was forced out wide, memorably squandering one big chance in a rare outing at centre-forward against Young Boys that prompted Mourinho to shake his head and shrug at the Old Trafford supporters.
Solskjaer has had faith in Rashford, though, and he has been rewarded. Leading a pacey front line that also allows room for former outcast Anthony Martial, the England international has scored eight goals under Solskjaer – including huge strikes at Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 8, 2019
GOT THE BEST OUT OF POGBA
If one man’s form almost single-handedly illustrated United’s issues with Mourinho in charge, it was surely that of Paul Pogba.
The Portuguese never seemed to work out how to get the best out of the World Cup winner, while a frosty off-field relationship was fairly evident. It appeared that either Mourinho or Pogba would have to depart soon enough. United fans will feel the right decision was made.
Backed up by Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera and given more freedom behind the front line fliers of Rashford, Martial and Jesse Lingard, Pogba has become key to the way United play. He can pick a pass or score a goal – he has nine under Solskjaer – and now looks like an £89million player.
— Paul Pogba (@paulpogba) February 9, 2019
RESTORED BELIEF IN THE IMPROBABLE
A trademark of the United side Solskjaer played for under Alex Ferguson was the belief that a situation was never lost, most notably turning around a Champions League final deficit in stoppage time against Bayern Munich in 1999.
But even though the Red Devils defeated Newcastle United from two goals down to seemingly save Mourinho’s job in October, that same spirit seemed to be lacking.
There is no doubt that it has returned with Solskjaer at the helm. Not only are United playing good football, they are also able to dig out unlikely results. The Champions League fightback against PSG was almost as spectacular as that famous night in Barcelona.
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) March 6, 2019
INTRODUCED MORE FUTURE STARS
Solskjaer played with the famous ‘Class of 92’, so he understands more than most the importance of the link between the academy and the first team at Old Trafford.
Lingard and Rashford were already regulars when he returned to United, with Scott McTominay on the fringes, but Solskjaer has further strengthened that bond with the youth system by bringing in more talented prospects – even if an injury crisis necessitated it.
When Rashford smashed in the decisive penalty against PSG, he celebrated with Tahith Chong and the highly rated Mason Greenwood in front of the delirious United fans.
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