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Sport How Solskjaer's siege mentality shines through when under big pressure

15:41  22 october  2020
15:41  22 october  2020 Source:   dailymail.co.uk

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praises Man United new boy Facundo Pellistri

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Marcus Rashford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Harry Maguire, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jose Mourinho standing in front of a crowd: MailOnline logo © Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo

You'd expect Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to be at his best when the chips are down.

After all, this was the striker who specialised in the stoppage-time smash and grab during an illustrious playing career at Old Trafford.

Now as Manchester United's manager, Solskjaer seems to thrive when the odds are stacked against him and his team.

When results take a downward turn, when the pressure mounts again, when the name Mauricio Pochettino is whispered, Solskjaer always seems to get it right.

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In the biggest games, when United assume the unfamiliar role of underdogs, they somehow seem to succeed following the Norwegian's gameplan.

Tuesday night's Champions League win away to Paris Saint-Germain was just the latest example.

United's start to the season has been ropey to say the least with that 6-1 humiliation at the hands of Tottenham supposedly the beginning of the end for a manager frequently accused of being out of his depth.

The deserved 4-1 win at Newcastle on Saturday night was surely a temporary reprieve with United's myriad deficiencies certain to be exposed by Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Co.

Not a bit of it. Every decision Solskjaer made, whether tactically or in terms of personnel, was absolutely spot on.

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Once again United thrived as the underdogs and recorded a famous European win thanks to Marcus Rashford's late strike.

Firstly, there was a switch in formation to the three central defenders and two wing-backs set-up Solskjaer likes to reserve for the most demanding games.

It typically appears when United face Chelsea or Manchester City because it adds extra security at the back but also offers a counter-attacking spring which suits United's style.

Secondly, there was the choice of personnel, which was bold.

Luke Shaw part of the three at the back, Axel Tuanzebe picked for the first time this season in the biggest game of his young career, captain Harry Maguire left at home and Alex Telles chucked in for a punishing debut at left wing-back.

In midfield, Solskjaer ignored all the noise around Paul Pogba to once again leave him on the bench in favour of workhorses Fred and Scott McTominay.

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a group of baseball players playing a football game: Mbappe is left on his backside by Axel Tuanzebe, who could solve United's centre-back woes © Provided by Daily Mail Mbappe is left on his backside by Axel Tuanzebe, who could solve United's centre-back woes a group of baseball players playing a football game: Bruno Fernandes (right) gave United the lead from the penalty spot - at the second attempt © Provided by Daily Mail Bruno Fernandes (right) gave United the lead from the penalty spot - at the second attempt

On the face of it, you looked at that line-up and really feared for United. But every selection Solskjaer made was the right one.

Fred and McTominay's industry provided the foundation for United's win, Telles and Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the other side were excellent. Tuanzebe was composed, offering a good solution to United's issues at centre back going forward.

Solskjaer could have dumped error-prone David de Gea at the start of the season in favour of the ambitious Dean Henderson. The stats supported the case for change.

But actually Henderson's return has placed just enough pressure on De Gea to restore his full concentration. He was more than able on the occasions PSG did manage to punch through.

Thirdly, the in-game decisions. When Anthony Martial headed into his own net for 1-1, Solskjaer could easily have introduced defensive-minded players from the bench and shut up shop. After all, nobody would have criticised a draw at the Parc des Princes.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Man United would have beaten Chelsea with fans

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a group of men playing a game of football: David de Gea seems to have improved his game this season since Dean Henderson's return © Provided by Daily Mail David de Gea seems to have improved his game this season since Dean Henderson's return a group of people playing football on a field: Solskjaer again left Paul Pogba on the bench but he impressed once he came on © Provided by Daily Mail Solskjaer again left Paul Pogba on the bench but he impressed once he came on

Man United fixtures

Premier League unless stated

Saturday Chelsea (H)

October 28 RB Leipzig (H)

Champions League group stage

November 1 Arsenal (H)

November 4 Istanbul Basaksehir (A)

Champions League group stage

Instead he introduced Pogba for Telles and the Frenchman played his 23 minutes as though he had plenty to prove. His performance was capped with the assist for Rashford's winner.

Fourthly, Solskjaer more often than not ensures his United team have the perfect mentality for the biggest games.

It might not be the United tradition he knew from his playing days but the underdog role suits them at the moment.

That kind of attitude ensures everyone puts in the hard yards, stays focused on their respective roles, embraces a counter-attacking game which is highly effective and plays with the knowledge that all of this will ultimately bring rewards, as on Tuesday night.

It's far from the first time that Solskjaer has got it right under intense pressure. There are two examples from last season alone.

Last December, United were ninth in the table after 14 matches having won as many games as they'd lost in the league.

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There was speculation Solskjaer would be sacked if they lost back-to-back games against Tottenham and Manchester City.

It didn't help that Jose Mourinho had just come in as Spurs manager but Solskjaer placed trust in his grafters, with Fred and McTominay in midfield, and his speedsters, with Rashford and Mason Greenwood up top.

The classic Sir Alex Ferguson siege mentality was in play as United came at Tottenham with aggression and purpose, outworked them and ultimately won 2-1. Solskjaer cheekily patted Mourinho on the head at the final whistle.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jose Mourinho are posing for a picture: Solskjaer gives Jose Mourinho a cheeky pat on the head after United's win over Spurs in 2019 © Provided by Daily Mail Solskjaer gives Jose Mourinho a cheeky pat on the head after United's win over Spurs in 2019 a group of baseball players playing a football game: Solskjaer was under intense pressure last December but United responded by beating Spurs © Provided by Daily Mail Solskjaer was under intense pressure last December but United responded by beating Spurs

A few days later, United went to the Etihad and blew City away on the counter-attack in the first half-an-hour, surging into a two-goal lead.

After that, United dropped back with six defensive players, soaked up everything Pep Guardiola's side could throw at them and won 2-1. It was an emphatic response to Solskjaer's critics.

Not that it took too long for Solskjaer to come under scrutiny again. A 2-0 home defeat by Burnley in late January was, at that time, the lowest point of his time in charge.

But once again, Solskjaer adjusted things and within a few weeks they'd won again at the Etihad, albeit in losing the Carabao Cup semi-final on aggregate, beaten Chelsea 2-0 in the league and then outplayed City 2-0 at Old Trafford just before lockdown.

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Again in the big games, Solskjaer adopted the 3-4-1-2 set-up, dropping Shaw into the back three, deploying energetic wing backs and using two hard-working defensive midfielders. Again, United had joy on the counter.

Harry Maguire holding a football ball: Harry Maguire and Daniel James celebrate United's victory away to Man City last December © Provided by Daily Mail Harry Maguire and Daniel James celebrate United's victory away to Man City last December Ole Gunnar Solskjaer standing in front of a crowd: Solskjaer salutes the United fans at the Etihad after a tactical masterclass last season © Provided by Daily Mail Solskjaer salutes the United fans at the Etihad after a tactical masterclass last season

Indeed, following the Burnley defeat, United embarked on an unbeaten run of 19 matches in all competitions either side of lockdown.

So Solskjaer again had the gameplan to recover and get United back on track at a time when many feared he would be fired. They came out swinging, claimed the necessary results and their luck turned.

Which takes us back to Solskjaer's first season and another memorable night in Paris. PSG's 2-0 win at Old Trafford in the first leg was the first defeat the Norwegian had suffered as interim manager.

It would have been easy to write off the return leg as a lost cause. When you look at United's line-up now, even more so.

Eric Bailly started at right back, Chris Smalling partnered Victor Lindelof in central defence. Ashley Young played on the right side of midfield with Andreas Pereira on the left, either side of Fred and McTominay.

The subs bench was effectively a load of kids and things got worse when Bailly suffered a first-half injury.

And yet, somehow, United prevailed 3-1 in the most dramatic of circumstances thanks to Rashford's 94th-minute penalty.

Solskjaer went for an old-fashioned 4-4-2 but the combination of Romelu Lukaku's brute force and Rashford's electric pace up front did the trick. He was rewarded with the job on a permanent basis, though admittedly their form then collapsed.

It's often said that United are never more than two defeats away from a crisis. Their fixture list remains daunting, with Chelsea, RB Leipzig and Arsenal up next.

But another memorable night in Paris has highlighted once again that their manager usually gets it right on the big occasion and especially when the burden on his own shoulders is high.

In terms of tactics, team selection, gameplan and mentality, Solskjaer continues to get it absolutely right when it matters.

Read more

Solskjaer has plenty of tactical options for United in Arsenal clash .
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is happy to have several tactical options at his disposal ahead of Sunday's game at Arsenal, thanks to his flexible friends at Old Trafford. The Manchester United manager has used four different formations so far this season.He is best known for playing a 4-3-3 at United but Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood formed a strike pairing in Wednesday’s 5-0 win over RB Leipzig, with Marcus Rashford then replacing Greenwood and hitting a hat-trick.

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