Friday 20 September 2019

Liberated United rediscover pace and passion

Dream start for Solskjaer as traditional values return with a bang

Jesse Lingard (left) celebrates with some of his team-mates after scoring Manchester United’s fifth goal in Cardiff. Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images
Jesse Lingard (left) celebrates with some of his team-mates after scoring Manchester United’s fifth goal in Cardiff. Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

Paul Hayward

it was not one of history's finest five-year plans but now Manchester United can bury the memory of 2013-18 by returning to what they always were.

What went right in the 5-1 hammering of Cardiff City in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first game as interim manager?

"Today we moved the ball quicker," explained Luke Shaw.

"The goals we scored were just magnificent. Rash's (Marcus Rashford's) free-kick helped settle the nerves.

"We carried on from there. They scored a goal but we didn't change anything. We carried on playing and the third goal was an amazing team goal."

These words still look strange in a United match report. They are counter-revolutionary, because they point to the culture before David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho tried to reinvent United - each in a different way.

United's players lined up to "thank" and "respect" Mourinho but the truth is that each looked liberated and relieved.

"Under any circumstances, that's how Man United are expected to play," Shaw said.

"At times (under Mourinho) it didn't happen. But the team were very good today, very quick getting the ball forwards and I think we were more clinical.

"In games before we've had a lot of chances that could've maybe ended up with a scoreline like that.

"It was nice to get the five goals, which we haven't done for a while, and hopefully we can push on from here."

From Solskjaer came an equally uncomplicated explanation of why United had played with more pace, purpose and a more coherent pattern.

Before the United caravan pulled out of the Cardiff City Stadium, with smiles abounding, Solskjaer said: "We had a little session yesterday on the patterns of play and we wanted Ashley (Young) going forward and Luke (Shaw) to support Anthony (Martial), because he's great one-against-one, and Ash on the right-hand side, too. It worked great."

In other words, get the full-backs up the pitch supporting the wide attackers and press in the opposition half while moving the ball quickly.

Standard fare, but a faded memory for United's fans, who unfurled old songs for a new start.

Shaw said: "We need to focus on each game. But we've got winnable games coming up and if we carry on playing like this we can pick up as many points as possible.

"It's obviously not nice when there's a big change at the top, the way it was. But it's sort of a fresh start and we need to look forward.

"We all, as players and as a team, need to show respect. People might be quick to forget what Jose did for United, with the three trophies. He did a lot.

"We're still in two cup competitions and we want the top four. We want to be playing in the Champions League next season and we want to focus on how to catch up.

"I don't see why we can't do that if we keep playing like that. We can't really be dropping points with the situation we're in. We need to fight for every three points every time we play."

In a thrilling first half, Rashford opened the scoring with a free-kick, Ander Herrera doubled the lead with a deflected shot, Victor Camarasa converted a penalty for Cardiff and United pulled away with a dazzling interchange for Anthony Martial's goal.

In the second half, Jesse Lingard scored from the penalty spot and late on to complete United's first five-goal haul in the league since Alex Ferguson's last game in change - the 2013 5-5 draw at West Bromwich Albion).


The simple positivity of Solskjaer's pre-match message was affirmed by Nemanja Matic afterwards.

"He (Solskjaer) is only two days with us, but we had a few meetings," Matic said.

"He said we need to play more forward, to be more dangerous in attack, to run more, to compete with every team, and that's exactly what we did - and we're happy because of that."

The midfielder, who was close to Mourinho, was careful to apportion blame to the players for United's dismal start to this campaign: "Of course. I said this also after the Liverpool game, that we have to take responsibility and do our best to play better and to win games."

The Mourinho inquest, meanwhile, rumbled on, with former United player Wayne Rooney telling BT Sport: "The big thing with Jose was the communication with players. I know the players weren't happy with that."

At the other end of the scale, Cardiff, who remain outside the relegation zone, now face Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur in quick succession.

"We've obviously been good here at home apart from today," said midfielder Aron Gunnarsson.

"We need to keep going, but looking at the table, at Christmas time, we'd have taken the position (17th).

"But we need to build on that and stick together, even though this loss was tough to take."

In the same corridor Paul Pogba, who was much improved, delivered his personal statement: "I know you want to ask. With Jose, we won trophies. We worked. I want to thank him for that.

"Not everything went well but things went well. We won trophies. He made me improve. As a person as well. That's it. That's the past."

The "bad" past is over. The "good" past is in vogue again. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

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