The sharp upturn in fortunes inspired by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during his interim reign as Manchester United manager has been retrospectively attributed to simply not being Jose Mourinho.
Prevailing wisdom is that Solskjaer simply liberated United’s players with simple messages and a positive attitude sorely lacking from his predecessor.
But statement away wins against Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea during those early months owed plenty to tactical masterstrokes by Solskjaer, and recent signs show he’s got his mojo back.
What has gone before?
United stunned Tottenham at Wembley in January with a split striker system which allowed Marcus Rashford to slam home only goal of the game on the break.
Arsenal were dispatched that same month despite Solskjaer ringing the changes and unleashing Romelu Lukaku out on the right wing, with a 3-1 victory ensuring FA Cup progression.
Solskjaer also outwitted Maurizio Sarri in the next round as well as shuffling his pack expertly to eliminate Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
But then the ideas seemed to dry up. As United struggled at the end of last season, Solskjaer did not appear to have the answers and as 2019/20 kicked off, he wedded himself to a four-man backline, and most often a 4-2-3-1 system.
Going into the game against Liverpool earlier this month, the international break granted Solskjaer a two-week period in which to devise a gameplan to nullify the champions of Europe.
If he couldn’t manage it, failing to inspire a response after the 1-0 loss to Newcastle, serious questions would be asked.
Solskjaer got his mojo back
Solskjaer unleashed a 3-4-1-2 system on Jurgen Klopp and the Reds seemed genuinely incapable of sussing it out and liberating their full backs, who are so crucial to their attacking play.
That earned United a 1-1 draw, although there was something for Solskjaer to work on in the way his side were pushed back into a timid 5-4-1 formation in an ultimately unsuccessful defence of their slender lead.
That game gave Solskjaer the confidence to go to Stamford Bridge with that same system despite opting to rotate personnel.
He was rewarded with a 2-1 victory, and his in-game substitutions provided the perfect riposte to growing Chelsea pressure during the second half, switching to a four-man backline by replacing Victor Lindelof with Anthony Martial.
Solskjaer has plenty to prove to show he’s an elite tactician, capable of mixing it with the very best on a consistent basis, but he has his mojo back in terms of conjuring gameplans slightly out of left field to win specific matches.
That has rubbed off on his players, who have overcome an awful away record to chalk up three successive wins on the road across all competitions.
Solskjaer’s next challenge is to devise gameplans capable of beating so-called lesser sides on a consistent basis and offering the goalscoring threat Old Trafford expects.
Whether he can do that remains to be seen, but he certainly has his mojo back.