I’m an honest person and as such, I’m not going to lie to you. Yesterday I was set to write a post asking how much Sir Alex Ferguson Ole Gunnar Solskjaer really had in him.
We know he has a lot. Whether it comes to his man management or his tendency to talk players up in the media before dropping them, there is plenty of the old boss in his new manager. Ferguson was known for something else though, gambling.
The boss was never afraid to take a chance with a young player over a more experienced one if that young player had something that he thought the team needed.
When Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial being subbed off at halftime due to injuries Tuesday night, United’s tactical gameplan went out the window. The reserve forwards, Romelu Lukaku, Juan Mata, and Alexis Sanchez simply don’t have the pace to do what Lingard and Martial do, and thus can’t be nearly as effective.
With a massive game against Chelsea approaching, and Martial and Lingard unavailable, Solskjaer was faced with a tough dilemma. Should he continue to trot out two of Lukaku, Mata, or Sanchez, forcing the team to change their tactics, or should he give an opportunity to unproven academy graduates Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong? At least their speed would allow United’s forward line to press and put pressure on Chelsea’s defenders.
I would have went with plan B. We already know what Mata and Sanchez bring to the table, which is not much. How much would it hurt to roll the dice on a high energy kid?
That’s what I was going to write Monday morning, but then I was tired, and lazy, and it was a holiday so I never got around to it. I don’t need to tell you that, you would never have known that I thought Solskjaer was wrong to not even include Chong on the bench, but like I said, I’m an honest person.
Well, hand up. Turns out that just like always Ole knew what he was doing.
Once again Ole put on a tactical masterpiece. Instead of playing Mata on the wing, where he was not only useless but badly exposed by PSG, Ole took a page out of Jose Mourinho’s playbook and started Mata at the top of a diamond hiding his lack of pace.
With Lukaku and Rashford on the wings, they were able to move around and create problems for Chelsea’s fullbacks. Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera were given freedom to get forward on the attack, culminating with both of them scoring headers in the box.
Mata was brilliant. He sat right on top of Jorginho, limiting the Chelsea midfielder’s ability to create, which is problematic since Sarri’s system is designed for everything to run through Jorginho.
When push came to shove, Solskjaer kept his faith in his veterans, trusting them to put in a performance when he needed them to.
Despite not being too involved in the attack, Mata put in a brilliant shift in the midfield. When Alexis Sanchez came off the bench for the final 20 minutes even he put in a great shift. Granted Alexis gets paid £400k a week to score and create goals, not put in a defensive shift, but hey, you take what you can get.
Through 13 games Solskjaer’s only blemish has come against PSG in the Champions League. He remains unbeaten domestically.
This is the first season since 1984/85 that United have won away at Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arsenal in the same season. They did them all with different players and different tactical plans.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Keep pushing those buttons!