Manchester United go into the final international break of 2019 in much better health than they entered the penultimate one.
There were murmurings about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job ahead of the October pause but he has dragged his United tenure back from the brink.
Solskjaer was on the edge
On October 6, United played their last game before the previous international break and produced a pitful performance in a 1-0 loss at Newcastle.
That left them 12th with nine points from eight games, the club’s lowest since 1989-90, when United had one less point in the old First Division.
The wait for an away win in the Premier League went on and Solskjaer’s side were able to produce just three shots on target.
Solskjaer looked a man struggling to find the answers and reigning European champions Liverpool were waiting once the players returned to club duty.
What’s different now?
Solskjaer produced an effective gameplan for that Liverpool visit and his players responded with a spirited performance and a 1-1 draw, which really we should have won.
Away wins across three competitions against Partizan, Norwich and a much-changed Chelsea created confidence, despite the limited opposition, fixing one of the team’s biggest problems.
There were some old habits on show during the 1-0 loss at Bourmemouth but Solskjaer responded by doubling down on what he wants from his United side.
Attacking impetus was reemphasised, and three-goal hauls in back-to-back home games were the reward – United could have had more against both Partizan and Brighton.
Anthony Martial’s return has been key to taking the heat off Marcus Rashford and allowing him to move back out wide.
That said, the Frenchman had a stinker at the Vitality Stadium and Solskjaer’s comments via the club website about him being fantastic when he’s in a ‘good mood’ were telling about what he’s like when his attitude isn’t so good.
Solskjaer is getting more out of Fred, while Brandon Williams has been a revelation who is genuinely United’s best current option at left back.
The Norwegian has doubled down on his principles and made it clear he retains the support of a dressing room committed to the high-tempo game he wants to play – and United are now up to seventh.
His next challenge is to keep it going as the fixtures pile up over Christmas as United have a tendency to slip back into bad habits once they stop making special effort week-in, week-out.
But the outlook is much better than it was after that Newcastle debacle, when the international break could not come soon enough and Solskjaer deserves credit for that.
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