Sunday 15 September 2019

Fans singing Solskjaer's name again after rout

Cardiff City 1 Manchester United 5

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates after Manchester United’s victory over Cardiff City last night. Photo: Stu Forster
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates after Manchester United’s victory over Cardiff City last night. Photo: Stu Forster

Stuart James

The Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era is up and running with smiles back on faces after Manchester United rediscovered their swagger of old with a victory that was every bit as convincing as the scoreline suggests.

Free-flowing, re-energised and liberated, United swept Cardiff City aside with ruthless efficiency on a night when Solskjaer's name was sung loud and clear throughout the game.

Ahead inside four minutes when Marcus Rashford scored from a free-kick that had Solskjaer clenching his fists, United never really looked back. Victor Camarasa's penalty, shortly after Ander Herrera had doubled the visitors' lead, didn't threaten to derail United on an evening when Paul Pogba was restored to the starting line-up.

Pogba had a hand in United's third goal, which was the pick of the bunch and featured some slick interplay that carved Cardiff open and culminated in Anthony Martial scoring his ninth of the season. That was just before the interval and by that stage the United fans were enjoying themselves, going through their full repertoire of songs as they chanted about everyone from Eric Cantona to Ruud van Nistelrooy and, of course, Solskjaer.

Jesse Lingard's penalty, shortly before the hour-mark, made it 4-1 and the England international went on to add a fifth, in the last minute, when he ran onto Pogba's measured pass before finishing clinically.

It was the first time that United had scored five goals in the Premier League since Alex Ferguson's last game in charge. A penny for José Mourinho's thoughts.

Manchester United's Jesse Lingard celebrates scoring their fifth goal with team mates. Photo: Rebecca Naden/Reuters
Manchester United's Jesse Lingard celebrates scoring their fifth goal with team mates. Photo: Rebecca Naden/Reuters

It would be fair to say that Solskjaer is not remembered with great fondness in south Wales. His nine months as manager in 2014 were a largely forgettable experience: he lost more than half of his 30 games in charge. Cardiff were relegated to the Championship in May of that year and languishing in 17th place in the second tier by the time Vincent Tan, the club's owner, decided to cut Solskjaer loose.

Tan admitted that people had told him to sack Solskjaer much sooner. Maybe all of that explains the boos that greeted Solskjaer's arrival as soon as he stepped off the team bus.

In the stadium, however, it was the United supporters making all the noise, fuelled by the sight of Solskjaer in the dugout and their team scoring twice inside the opening half-hour. United could not have wished for a better start in that respect.

There were only 183 seconds on the clock when Rashford registered the first goal under Solskjaer's watch. It was a free-kick from about 25 yards and although Rashford hit the ball well with the outside of his foot - it swerved and dipped viciously - questions will be asked about the way that the players in the Cardiff wall defended. There was a huge gap in between Harry Arter and Callum Paterson and that is exactly where Rashford placed his shot.

Manchester United's Anthony Martial (left) scores his side's third goal. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Manchester United's Anthony Martial (left) scores his side's third goal. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

United were dominating the ball but also pressing aggressively and snapping into tackles on the rare occasions that Cardiff were in possession. It felt like there was a far greater intensity to their play and Solskjaer, who brought Phil Jones, Martial, Luke Shaw and Pogba back into the team, was soon celebrating a second goal.

It was laced with good fortune as Herrera, receiving a square pass from Pogba about 30 yards out, accepted the invitation to shoot as space opened up invitingly in front of him. The Spaniard's shot took a significant deflection off Galway man Greg Cunningham and the ball looped beyond goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and into the top corner.

Cardiff had not managed a shot on target at that point but that all changed when Rashford was penalised for handball in the United area. The striker was bitterly unhappy with the decision, claiming he controlled the ball with a combination of his chest and shoulder, but the assistant referee was on the right side of the pitch to make the call. Camarasa emphatically converted from the spot, sweeping his kick into the top corner and suddenly it was game on.

Or so we thought.

Within three minutes United had added a third with a goal of the highest quality.

In a blur of one-touch passing and fluid movement, Martial, Pogba and Lingard carved Cardiff open with a lovely passage of play. Martial finished what he started, coolly dispatching a low shot past Etheridge, and United were back in total control.

The pattern of the game remained the same after the restart as United pinned Cardiff back. A neat exchange between Pogba and Rashford nearly brought another goal before Lingard made it 4-0 from the spot. Sol Bamba clumsily fouled Lingard as he darted into the area and the midfielder picked himself up to confidently beat Etheridge from 12 yards.

Although David de Gea made a fine save to repel Josh Murphy's curling shot, in a rare Cardiff attack, Rashford and Pogba, who was brilliantly denied by Etheridge, came close to adding a fifth. Lingard, however, was not finished.

Observer

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