Ole Gunnar Solskjaer led Manchester United to the Europa League final.
It may not be the Champions League, yet, but this is an important step for United on the route to having another serious crack at the competition next season.
This is a chance for United to become winners instead of nearly-men, for Solskjaer’s project to be validated, for fans to celebrate at last.
Getting to the final itself is an achievement, although one fans are not satisfied with, just 90 minutes away from silverware, the team have a great chance to take the next step.
But before we get too worried about whether United will beat Villarreal, there’s plenty of time for that, let’s take stock and look at how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turned this team into European finalists…
Solskjaer realised when he took over as manager that his team were lacking in fitness. This was evident by the way they trailed off at the end of the 2018/19 season.
The players could not keep up with the style of football he wanted to play. Now, it is a different story.
The season is in it’s final stages and United’s players are getting better. Stars like Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani are peaking, showing no signs of slowing down.
United are competitive all over the pitch, every single game. Solskjaer and his coaching staff deserve great credit for that.
United’s coaching staff have stuck with their methods, and trusted the core group of players who have come close in four previous semi-finals, confident the team’s luck would turn.
Perhaps more poignantly, Solskjaer has benefitted from patience himself, with United’s board backing him even during the low points.
There have been lows, the semi-final losses, the defeat away at Newcastle in October 2019, the 6-1 defeat to Spurs this season.
Solskjaer was given time, and he has benefitted from this. Now United are getting closer to being rewarded with a trophy.
The biggest part of the problem when Jose Mourinho was fired in 2018 was the the United squad was miserable. This was evident on the pitch, and in training sessions.
Solskjaer became the antithesis to Mourinho, allowing the squad breathing space and freedom to express their personalities on and off the pitch.
Luke Shaw has credited Solskjaer’s man management with his turnaround in form, and Paul Pogba has clearly benefitted too.
This approach from Solskjaer has enabled United to get more out of the assets the team has. The squad enjoy playing under him, and the results on the pitch back this up.
Solskjaer looked to rid the squad of players who did not want to be there, and replace them with ones who did.
It has been a gradual process, but it looks like Solskjaer is getting it right.
Players who have come in like Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have great attitudes, and have become automatic undisputed starters.
Any player who now comes in, must fit in with the established ethos of the squad. No primadonnas are wanted, nobody who is here for a quick pay-check. United’s players want to win, and want to win for the club and the fans as much as themselves.
United came close last season, agonisingly so. Solskjaer looked to fix this by adding experience to his squad to help the players get over the line.
Perhaps it wasn’t his top objective to sign Edinson Cavani at the start of the summer, but he deserves credit for agreeing to the move and bringing he Uruguayan in.
Cavani has had a settling influence on a young team, leading United through the semi-final, a stage where they had previously wobbled without him.
By blending Cavani’s experience with other leaders like Fernandes and Pogba, United now have an ideal mix of players and a balanced squad, still focused on youth, but with the necessary experience required.
Manchester United’s 2021 Europa League campaign so far
- vs Real Sociedad
1st leg: 4-0 win: Fernandes (2), Rashford, James
2nd leg: 0-0
- vs AC Milan
1st leg: 1-1: Amad
2nd leg: 1-0 win: Pogba
- vs Granada
1st leg: 2-0 win: Rashford, Fernandes
2nd leg: 2-0 win: Cavani, OG
- vs Roma
1st leg: 6-2 win: Fernandes (2), Cavani (2), Pogba, Greenwood
2nd leg: 2-3 loss: Cavani (2)
- vs Villarreal
Final: 1-1: Cavani – United lose 11-10 on penalties
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