Manchester United shocked the world as they overturned a 0-2 first-leg deficit to beat PSG 1-3 in the Champions League.
That was an absolutely shocking result. When the draw was made, José Mourinho was still United manager and The Red Devils were playing abysmal football. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turned things around but after the first leg defeat and an injury list that hit double figures and their best player being suspended… no one could have predicted a United win.
Yet United did win and in truly dramatic fashion. Sure, they had luck, but they still managed to power their way to an incredible victory. This has led to the calls for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to get the manager’s job permanently to increase in frequency and intensity. It almost seems inevitable that he will get the job now, but who would be the winners and losers if he did?
Winner: The United Way
There’s something intangible about success in football. It’s often described as just “it.” At Old Trafford there’s a song that describes it as “football taught by Matt Busby” and Sir Alex Ferguson had names/sayings for various parts of it “Fergie-time,” “you’ll never win anything with kids,” etc. but it can be broadly described as The United Way.
That means playing direct and fast, giving the attacking players enough shape to work but also enough freedom to improvise, getting the most out of limited talents in big situations, trusting the youngsters from the youth academy, playing to the final whistle, relishing a challenge and most importantly never, ever, giving up.
All of those are things United have been doing in spades since Solskjaer took charge. And if he got the job full-time then he would – along with Mike Phelan, Michael Carrick, Kieran McKenna and co. – keep on bringing The United Way to the forefront. Ensuring the continuation of a legacy that began over 60 years ago.
Loser: José Mourinho
José Mourinho is actually a loser on multiple levels here. The first one is obviously that look at what this United squad is capable of! Look at what they can do when you believe in them! All Mourinho did was belittle his own players and moan. A year ago in this very round he said that Sevilla were better than United and that he couldn’t be blamed for losing. This year Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stared at a 0-2 first-leg defeat and said “mountains are there to be climbed.”
But Mourinho is also a loser because the actual performance United put in was actually very Mourinho. The defence was packed and the side broke forward with just one or two men at a time for most of the match – yet the fans accepted it where they hated it from Mourinho.
Of course that losing goes to yet an even deeper level when you realise that the reason it was accepted from Solskjaer and not from Mourinho is because it was done well. Under Mourinho, United didn’t play like a good Mourinho side. They were permeable at the back and flaccid up-front; there was just nothing there. Under Solskjaer United have shown that whilst the can flow forward and attack, they can also play like a good Mourinho side, the kind of Mourinho side that tore up Europe a decade ago. And that Mourinho himself couldn’t raise them to that level is the ultimate insult.
Winner: The kids
Tahith Chong made his Manchester United debut at the weekend. Mason Greenwood had never played a senior second for the club. But with Manchester United trailing on aggregate in the Parc des Princes, these kids are who Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turned to. He had trust in them, giving them a platform to make themselves into heroes.
And that’s just what they did. Chong gave the ball away a few times but also had an incredibly positive attitude in terms of attacking PSG and even played a part in the move that led to Diogo Dalot’s shot. As did Greenwood, making a run out wide which created the space for Dalot to shoot. In fact Dalot himself is only 19 and although he was signed by the club he was also sent on during the game.
Moreover the man who stepped up and took United’s game-winning penalty was only 21. And alright he’s Marcus Rashford but that he’s become the talisman of this United side says so much. Solskjaer trusts the kids, and with him in charge they will only get more minutes.
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Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have been wonderful to watch and a breath of fresh air. The kind of side that just knows how to get it done against all odds. And it really is like that because even the underlying stats say they shouldn’t be doing this well.
United’s expected goals (xG) under Solskjaer is something like 29.8 whilst they’ve actually managed 39 goals. Moreover they’ve allowed 21.2 xG against, but have only conceded 13. Their results are in-line with their performances and should nothing change they will regress to the mean sometime in the short or medium term.
Man Utd under Solskjaer
Expected Goals 29.8
Goals Conceded 13
Expected Goals Against 21.3
Games played 17
Penalties won 7
— Orbinho (@Orbinho) March 6, 2019
So of course the xG folks are saying that Solskjaer should be content with his world-class caretaker display. And you’d expect people to listen to them, the numbers do back them up! But if Solskjaer does get the job (and nothing has changed in terms of the numbers) then it will be a big statement on just how far xG still has to go to be taken seriously in football.
Winner: Daniel Levy
Daniel Levy must have been celebrating as hard as any Manchester United fan when they saw United pick up the win last night. For the longest time it seemed as though the inevitable that The Red Devils would come calling at White Hart Lane for Mauricio Pochettino.
Then Solskjaer began his caretaker spell well, and Spurs would have relaxed. But after the first leg it became clear that United were in need of a manager as skilled as Mauricio Pochettino. And so once again it seemed as though the one man holding things together at Spurs, allowing Daniel Levy to pay 2005 wages in 2019 and still compete, would leave and cause the whole house of cards to collapse.
But after that result in Paris? Solskjaer will surely be favourite to get the job, and if he does Levy gets to keep his man. A huge win.
Loser: The Premier League (and Champions League?)
Remember when Manchester United were rubbish? It’s not hard really just point to a random weekend between August 2013 and December 2018 and you will more than likely find a day where United were being rubbish. Alright there were some good times like Juanfield, Rashford’s first two games and the 2017 EFL Cup and Europe League finals, but these were few and far between.
This gave fans of other Premier League clubs, and indeed other clubs in general, to have a good laugh at United. Long-standing “never won at Old Trafford” streaks were snapped and there was just no fear of The Red Devils. Then Solsjkaer showed up and every opponent who has stood in his way bar Liverpool and Burnley have been defeated. Alright there was a lot of luck with Spurs and PSG, but the bottom line is United are serious business again and if Solskjaer gets the job permanently then that’s bad news for the Premier and Champions League because no one wants to contend with a serious Manchester United.