Whether you like it or not, Manchester United are stirring.
In a week that saw Liverpool wake from a three-decade slumber to claim the Premier League title, United produced one of their most tantalising performances since their last triumph under Sir Alex Ferguson, suggesting their own current drought may not last quite so long.
United was less than perfect against Brighton, with occasional fractures exposed in their shape as they piled forward in search of goals, but they delivered one of the most technically proficient and utterly dominant displays since the Fergie hung up his hairdryer.
Since the halfway point of the 2019/20 campaign, the Red Devils sit second in the form table, two points above Manchester City and seven shy of Liverpool, yet the man pulling the strings remains a somewhat undervalued asset.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t fit the arbitrary ‘super manager’ billing; his methods and styles are rarely commented on, while Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are the focus of intense adulation for their role in shaping their teams into powerhouses.
Klopp is credited with instilling a relentless hunger into his team, an insatiable desire to win at all costs, and has etched his ‘gengenpress’ tactical style into football fans’ common lexicon.
Guardiola is hailed a wizard when Man City’s superstars hit full tilt and ghost beyond teams with orchestrated precision – a reincarnation of Barcelona.
If both managers are credited with revolutionising their clubs, why is United’s success merely seen as ‘good players clicking at the right time’?
Bruno Fernandes has been a catalyst for change in the 2019/20 season, there’s no doubt about it, but many are placing United’s recent success fully on his shoulders.
On that logic, Liverpool’s success is a mere consequence of winning the £30m jackpot with one-time Chelsea flop Mohamed Salah or Southampton winger Sadio Mane as opposed to anything Klopp has done himself.
Of course, that isn’t true. The Liverpool boss has crafted his squad, tweaked and tuned roles to suit the individuals involved.
At Old Trafford, Solskjaer has integrated Fernandes impeccably, found him a plush office in the centre of the park to conduct his business, and deserves a lot of credit for flooding the United attack with youthful exuberance.
This United team is more than just Fernandes: it’s one that has been moulded by Solskjaer. Take their third goal against Brighton for example.
After soaking up a short spell of pressure, to unleash such the ensuing furious counter attack would’ve been enough to make Fergie break into a dance had he been at the wheel.
That ball from Nemanja Matic – a player reborn in the deep holding role created by Solskjaer.
That drifting cross from teenager Mason Greenwood – who Solskjaer has trusted ahead of departed stars such as Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku.
That volley by Fernandes – unshackled by Solskjaer to prod, probe and penetrate defences at will.
Solskjaer’s fingerprints are all over their recent success, despite many fans and neutrals being unable to shake the perceptible aura of ‘supply teacher’ he has exuded in the past.
He has coaxed the best season yet out of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial has come in from the wayside to lead the line, and Paul Pogba is producing form unseen during the Jose Mourinho days.
The fact we’re not even talking about the defence suggests they’re quietly going about their business, marshalled by the amiable yet resolute Harry Maguire.
Solskjaer is not Klopp, nor is he Guardiola, but he is responsible for building his team in the way both other bosses have done so over the past few years. He’s just not as far through the process.
Perhaps the United boss needs a trophy or two in the cabinet to shake the current perception people have about him.
Regardless of how he is viewed, he deserves direct praise as the man behind the curtain plotting the course for Manchester United’s return to the top.
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