Ole Gunnar Solskjaer outwits two of football’s greatest tacticians

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer outwits two of football’s greatest tacticians

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has answered his critics following the 6-1 home defeat to Spurs in the best possible way, with three wins and a draw from four games, including two historic victories in the Champions League Group H – the so-called ‘Group of Death’.

There were gasps of dismay from many Manchester United fans when Solskjaer’s young side was drawn in a group that contained last season’s finalists, Paris St Germain, semi-finalists RB Leipzig and that included a tricky trip to Istanbul to play Basaksehir.

Few people were confident that United would qualify from the group.

But last night, Solskjaer and his men followed up last week’s magnificent 2-1 victory in Paris against Neymar, Mbappe and co with a 5-0 thumping of Julian Nagelsmann’s notorious high press – a tactic to which Solskjaer has previously been accused of having no answer.

Indeed, the manager that rival fans have dubbed ‘the PE teacher’ due to his lack of experience has outwitted two coaches considered to be among the greatest in the game, Nagelsmann and Thomas Tuchel, over the course of these two matches.

‘It is unfashionable to credit Solskjaer with too much managerial acumen but even his harshest critics would have to accept that in the space of eight days he has constructed different plans to deal adeptly with teams who graced the final stages of last season’s Champions League,’ said The Athletic’s Laurie Whitwell in his post-match analysis.

‘The most impressive aspect is that personnel and systems were tailored to suit each game, as well as the domestic calendar.

‘He had the courage to shuffle his team and change formations on the biggest stage against a side with more than enough capacity for damage.’

Solskjaer’s reluctance to change personnel and formations has been cited many times before, including here at The Peoples Person, as one of the big reasons for the see-saw form that sees the team go on long winning streaks followed by equally long losing ones. In a nutshell, teams learn how to play United because what they set out to do becomes too predictable.

However, that seems to have changed.

As Whitwell notes, ‘in the four games since the 6-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, Solskjaer has started 17 different players and used three distinct formations.’

‘Those close to the club knew “unpredictability” would be the key to genuine progression. Solskjaer’s side seem to have reached that point.’

He has been partly aided by the addition of quality players to the squad such as Donny van de Beek, Edinson Cavani and Alex Telles and also by the absence of the type of injury crisis that dogged the side last season.

However, the willingness to change personnel and formation repeatedly over the last couple of weeks represents a huge demonstration of the manager’s progression.

‘When the fixture list reads two crucial Premier League encounters and two Champions League group games such turnover is a real gauge of a manager’s faith in his players and his ideas,’ Whitwell says.

‘The results and performances in this sequence show Solskjaer has good levels of both.’

This summer’s transfer window was at times frustrating and disappointing. So cast your mind back to less stressful days and test your knowledge of past United arrivals and departures in our quiz below.

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About The Author

Red Billy is co-editor of The Peoples Person, author of three books and totally obsessed with football's transfer market. Always glad to get feedback - write to redbilly (at thepeoplesperson.com) or click the email link to send a message.