Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's honeymoon continues at Man United
MANCHESTER, England -- After overseeing a 3-1 win over Huddersfield on Boxing Day -- his second victory as caretaker manager of Manchester United in the space of four days -- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted that he has not had time to change that much since taking the reins from Jose Mourinho last week.
The hectic holiday schedule does not allow for quality time on the training pitch, but Solskjaer's United are already different from the team he inherited. How long it lasts is anyone's guess and, although he has been granted a favourable run of games to start his time in charge, it is too early to say this is the start of a charge into the Premier League's top four.
For now, though, it is enough that the new manager has made games enjoyable again and his gift to fans this Christmas has been to give them reason to be excited. Sources close to the club have told ESPN FC that there is more demand for tickets and it is no coincidence.
Solskjaer insists the only thing he has been able to change in the past week is "the mindset" of his players. Whatever he has done, it has worked: In two games United have scored eight goals, courtesy of six different scorers.
Some of the old problems remain -- Solskjaer says his players have promised him a clean sheet after gifting Cardiff and Huddersfield consolation goals and United still struggle to defend set pieces -- but the change at the other end of the pitch is already noticeable.
For most of the first half on Wednesday, Solskjaer stood on the touchline pointing forward, and the message was clear enough. Indeed, there were times when he was simply pointing at Huddersfield's goal, and after Jesse Lingard tested goalkeeper Jonas Lossl with a shot, there came the familiar chant of "attack, attack, attack" from behind the goal.
But it was not a plea, as it had been at times under Mourinho, just a salute to what the fans had seen. By the final whistle, Old Trafford's Stretford End was asking for waves from Solskjaer, Mike Phelan and Michael Carrick. Mourinho had stopped being serenaded a long time ago.
The biggest roar of the afternoon, though, had come just before kickoff, when stadium announcer Alan Keegan asked: "Will you please welcome back the legend, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer." Cue huge cheers from the 76,000 supporters packed inside the stadium, quickly followed by a rendition of, "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole." If Solskjaer's first job was to bring back smiles, he has already succeeded.
"It was extra special but I was surprisingly calm," said Solskjaer, whose family were among those watching. "I think the boys have settled me down really quickly. You trust the team you put out. It is special hearing the crowd singing my song but now they start when the game begins. It's humbling but it makes you really proud. It's a day I'll never forget."
After the game, Huddersfield manager David Wagner was asked to sum up the difference between Mourinho's United and the team managed by his successor. "Freedom" was the reply. He did not need to say much more, but that is not to suggest that Solskjaer will just let his players flood forward and do what they want.
When United, only ahead through Nemanja Matic's goal at the time, were under pressure early in the second half, Fred and Diogo Dalot were quickly removed from the proceedings, replaced by the more experienced Ander Herrera and Ashley Young. They were timely changes. United immediately became more solid and a pair of Paul Pogba goals made the points safe.
"I want my team to play in a certain way and you give them little pointers," Solskjaer said. "It's a work in progress. It's going to take time and I've done a little bit to tweak but will improve as time goes on."
With games against Bournemouth, Newcastle and Reading in the next 10 days, the real work may have to wait. But for the first time in a long time, Old Trafford is calm; it makes a change that the spotlight is on Manchester City and Pep Guardiola after the champions lost for a third time in four league games and Liverpool's lead at the top grew to six points.
Solskjaer's biggest problem ahead of Sunday's meeting with Bournemouth might be fitting in the returning forward trio of Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Anthony Martial. It is not the worst dilemma to have and a welcome change of pace for the occupier of the manager's seat at United.
Before sitting down for his post-match news conference, Solskjaer said he wanted to relay a message from "the boss," which asked whether the gathered media were missing him. "Which boss?" asked one reporter; the reply came that Sir Alex Ferguson "is the only one."
Solskjaer might not believe he is worthy of the title just yet but, two games in, he is doing a good impression.