As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had just beaten Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City for the second time this season, the two managers’ comments on Manchester United were telling.
After last night’s derby, Guardiola was quick to praise United’s style of play, management team and individual players. Solskjaer hailed his side’s attitude and character and how it has improved since he took over.
Both managers have beaten each other since and Solskjaer, perhaps more than anyone else, has exposed the weaknesses in Guardiola’s City side. The same is true vice versa.
Guardiola: I like United under Solskjaer
Though the FA Cup could throw up a fifth encounter between United and City, Solskjaer has come out on top so far with one game left in the league in March.
Guardiola told reporters, published online by Talksport among others, after Wednesday night’s game that United’s squad is “really good.”
“I like the way they play a lot. At Old Trafford, we played really well [in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final], but we lost here. The quality of the players up front [for United] is incredible,” Guardiola said.
“I have the feeling they are trying to do what the manager wants. I think it works.”
Guardiola’s words tie into those of many fans and Solskjaer himself. The Norwegian is trying to change two things at United: the attitude and the style of play.
Solskjaer facing same challenges as Guardiola and Klopp
To change the style of play is difficult as Jurgen Klopp found at Liverpool and Guardiola did at City. It felt like Guardiola recognised that challenge.
“Maybe they are not consistent,” Guardiola continued. “Maybe at home, they struggle against the teams who defend well.”
It’s a subject that’s come up a lot in Solskjaer’s press conferences this season. Reports ask each week why Solskjaer’s United side are so inconsistent. After the City game, he responded once more.
“I’ve spoken about this so many times. We know that it’s going to be inconsistent while we’re building. But it shows how good we can be,” Solskjaer explained.
“Everyone who is watching us can see what we’re trying to do.”
Some remain unconvinced by Solskjaer
That’s not quite true. There are plenty who regularly watch United who are unsure about what Solskjaer wants from his team apart from a counter-attacking outfit. But in the away win at City, United were very focused on playing out from the back to create chances. It led to a couple of mistakes. Guardiola and Solskjaer both referenced it.
“Once in a while you’re going to make. mistakes,” admitted Solskjaer. “But if you’re going to come here and just defend, you’ve got no chance.”
“Yes, we created one or two dangerous moments [for ourselves] with the way we tried to play out. But we want to boys to express themselves.”
Guardiola praised Lindelof and described Maguire as as “one of the best defenders in the world.”
“I think in time, they will come back to what [Manchester] United was for many, many years.”
Solskjaer’s words being echoed by Guardiola
The point is that Solskjaer’s words are being echoed by Guardiola, the club’s rival manager but one who’s highly respected and rightly so.
“I want to talk about the players and the attitude that they’ve shown. They’ve come here twice in six weeks and beat Man City. I’m so proud of how far they’ve come,” Solskjaer said.
What’s all of this to say? Solskjaer is making progress. He’s brought in four good players now, with the recent signing of Bruno Fernandes. All of those additions fit into what he’s trying to build. There have been mistakes, of course, and hard luck with injuries, too.
The words of Guardiola and Solskjaer himself show us what is being done at United, all in spite of the inherently mismanaged top level at the club.
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