Manchester United began life after Jose Mourinho as they recorded a resounding 5-1 win over Cardiff in interim boss Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s first game in charge.
Attacking freedom is back at United…
Granted, this may be an overreaction based on just one game. But under Solskjaer, United looked deadly going forward, and their five goals on the night is a testament to the same. The front three on the night consisted of Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, and Anthony Martial. All of three of them were brilliant, and their fluid movement posed a huge headache for the Cardiff City backline.
United had a whopping 75% possession in the game, which is astronomical compared to their average of 53.1% this season. The likes of Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera were given license to go forward, and they played important roles in the game. Mourinho was often criticised for adopting a defensive approach at United, but Solskjaer looks to have altered that. This was the first time they hit five goals since Sir Alex Ferguson’s last match in charge. That day was over five years ago.
…with that being said, it was only Cardiff after all
It was a great result for United, especially after the poor season they have had so far. Naturally, the supporters are joyous and hopeful, but the win must be put into perspective. Cardiff are just two points above the relegation zone as it stands, and they did themselves no favours against an unforgiving United side.
The wall for the free-kick for the first goal was poorly positioned, and the Bluebirds were guilty of other mistakes as well. United were good, but on the other hand, the quality of their opposition was poor. Solskjaer needs to get some more results on the bounce, which will validate the Cardiff win. Nevertheless, it was the perfect start for the ‘baby-faced assassin.’
Pogba flourishes in an attacking role
Many feel that United have failed to exploit Paul Pogba’s potential. He has been at the club for more than two years but arguably has failed to better his Juventus form. Mourinho often played him in a midfield two, which placed greater defensive responsibilities on him, while repressing his attacking instincts.
Solskjaer deployed the Frenchman in a midfield three, and he made an instant impact. Pogba recorded two assists on the night and was a creative force throughout. His linkup play with the likes or Martial and Lingard was great, and he was disciplined in possession as well. He was benched in Mourinho’s last game, but Pogba will arguably be the key player for Solskjaer in his Manchester United stint.
Cardiff’s home run broken in some style
Cardiff had to endure a disastrous start to the season, as they were embroiled in the bottom three for quite a few weeks. They picked up their first league win of the season in late October, but their form has improved since. Neil Warnock’s men were on a run of three straight home wins, yet they capitulated against United to break their momentum.
The loss must definitely bring their confidence crashing down. It brought them down to 17th place after they were as high as 14th recently. Now only two points separate them from the drop zone. Relegation is still a realistic possibility for Cardiff and they need to bounce back immediately. The busy festive schedule gives them the chance to do so on Wednesday at Selhurst Park.
Lukaku and Sanchez who?
Last January, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez were arguably the two-star attackers in the United team. Sanchez had recently moved to the club, and Lukaku was scoring on a consistent basis. But fast forward a year, and neither of them played any part in the win over Cardiff.
Now Lukaku has personal problems to deal with and Sanchez is recovering from an injury, but Solskjaer didn’t really need them in Wales. The trio of Lingard, Martial, and Rashford were pacy, direct, and skillful. They combined well, and Martial’s goal was a delectable team goal. Naturally, Lukaku and Sanchez will come into Solskjaer’s thinking when they return, but they far from being assured of a place in the team after Saturday evenings performance.