The resurgence of Man Utd manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: From being favourite for the sack to beating Pep Guardiola three times

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 09 March 2020, 11:39

It’s been easy to criticise Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at certain points this season. From failing to beat League One Rochdale in 90 minutes, to lacklustre Premier League defeats to the likes of Newcastle, Watford, Bournemouth and Burnley.

Man Utd may have stuttered out of the blocks in 2020 - they lost four of their opening seven games of the year - but since that desperately disappointing 2-0 defeat at home to Sean Dyche’s Burnley in January, there’s been a notable improvement in performances and results which in turn makes for an exciting final few months of the season for Solskjaer’s resurrected Red Devils who are targeting two trophies and a top-four finish.

Surviving the sack

From August through to February, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was an almost constant presence in the upper echelons of the next Premier League manager to leave market, yet while there have been six top-flight casualties, the Norwegian has not been one of them.

A dire loss to Steve Bruce’s Newcastle in early October saw Solskjaer’s odds cut to 9/4 in the betting, while he then came in at 2/1 in early December after a defeat to Astana which came either side of draws against Sheffield United and Aston Villa. 

Solskjaer again came under-fire - 11/8 - after a three-game winless start to the year which included defeats against Arsenal and Man City, then later in January he was even made the odds-on frontrunner for the chop after back-to-back 2-0 reverses against Liverpool and Burnley.

Yet Solskjaer clung onto his job and has since overseen an impressive 10 game unbeaten run in all competitions - the club's best since the start of his tenure (11 games) - during which Man Utd have progressed through to the Europa League last-16, made it into the FA Cup quarter-finals, and closed the gap to the top-four to just three points. 

On top of that, he’s beaten Pep Guardiola twice in the space of six weeks…

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Solskjaer's future seemed in doubt after a defeat to Burnley

Toppling Pep Guardiola

In fact, if you include December’s win at the Etihad, Solskjaer has actually toppled Guardiola three times in the last three months.

Sunday’s 2-0 triumph at Old Trafford meant that Solskjaer became only the second manager - after Jurgen Klopp - to beat the Spaniard three times in a single season in all competitions. 

He’s also only the third manager to conjure up the league double over Guardiola, following in the footsteps of Antonio Conte and Nuno Santo.

Furthermore, Solskjaer is now one of only two managers to have faced Guardiola at least five times and subsequently enjoyed more wins (three) than defeats (two). Jurgen Klopp being the other.

Eye for a signing

One area that Solskjaer has thrived in is the transfer market.

The English duo of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire have been two excellent additions in defence, and while Daniel James has been unable to sustain his impressive start to the season, his frightening pace means he’s always a threat in attack. Fine-tuning is needed but the Welshman is an exciting prospect for the future.

He may have only been at Man Utd for just over a month but £47m midfielder Bruno Fernandes has swiftly turned himself into a Red Devils icon.

His vision, technique, movement and eye for both a goal and an assist have been central to Man Utd’s turnaround, with the Portuguese star helping transform those players around him.

Eyebrows were raised when Odion Ighalo was signed on-loan from Shanghai Shenhua on transfer deadline day, yet the former Watford striker already has three goals to his name in his new surroundings.

“We know we lack one, two, three players to be considered a title contender and some experience and we know that,” revealed the Man Utd boss, who will surely be handed funds in the summer as he bids to propel the club to the next level.

What’s next?

The race for a top-four finish is proving to be an exciting one, made more intriguing by the fact we don’t yet know if fifth spot will provide a Champions League spot too due to the Man City saga. 

Either way, United will be targeting fourth place, which is currently held by Chelsea who are three points better off with nine games to go. 

While it’s true that United have struggled against teams they’ve been expected to beat this season, their run-in is favourable - after Spurs - with games against Brighton, Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Ham to come. 

They must also face Sheffield United - the date has not yet been confirmed - and Leicester in two fixtures that could prove pivotal in their quest to seal a top-four finish. At the time of writing Solskjaer’s troops are 7/4 to do just that, and 4/1 to bag third.

They are the 4/1 favourites to lift the Europa League trophy for the second time in three seasons, while they are available at 8/1 to win the FA Cup for only the second time in 16 years, and can be backed at 44/1 to win both trophies.

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