Richard Dunne: 'Solskjaer will have used Dubai training camp to do two important things ahead of first big test'
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had a pretty easy run of games so far since taking over at Manchester United, but it had to get serious at some stage.
And that starts this Sunday when they play Tottenham away, which is as hard as it gets at present.
The games he’s had up to now have been clashes you’d expect United to win, but this is a proper test for both the manager and the team, especially as Spurs beat them 3-0 at Old Trafford earlier in the season.
So this game will show whether United really have improved or if they were only getting a boost from the new manager coming in.
We will see from this match if they can become a threat again. Under Jose Mourinho, in games against the big sides, United never even tried to win – they just went out to shut up shop.
We will see what the United philosophy is now – do they try and win a game or hold out for a draw?
I do see a difference in what United have done since Solskjaer took over. I know the games they won were winnable from the start, but they won them well.
They seem to have upped the tempo, moved the ball quicker and the front players seem to have more freedom to play.
With Mourinho at the helm, there wasn’t any support for the forward players. There was no one else up there with the front players, but now Paul Pogba has more influence further up the field, getting himself into the box.
And that freedom will help the team as that is the kind of players United have.
With Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera, they have players who are happy to run around and be dogged in midfield. You need that, but your whole team can’t be based around them, you need to have a platform where you work on your front players, making sure that you release them to cause defenders problems.
United will go into the Spurs match off the back of a week in Dubai and that will have done them good.
Football has changed a lot, even in the last six or seven years. I recall a time when a warm-weather training camp could become a bit messy in terms of how the players behaved, but there will have been none of that with United in the last week.
Solksjaer will have used the few days to do two things: first of all, work on coaching the players but also to spend time with them, getting to know them. With a new manager coming in, he will have done a lot of tactical work, to be sure that they know what he is looking for from his side. It was a chance for him to put his own stamp on the team.
He came into the job at a very busy time, just coming up to Christmas. There were so many matches he wouldn’t have had time to talk to the players, but with a few days away in somewhere like Dubai he will have had time with them. And you will see more of his philosophy in the team in the weeks ahead.
Those training camps could be messy, but professional footballers have changed their mentality. Players are so focused now, they all have their own regime and they each want to be the fittest player in the squad.
The days have gone when you went away to, say, Spain or Dubai and caused trouble.
Back then, a trip like that would have been looked on as a chance to get away and really enjoy yourself.
I would imagine that the United players would have had a few meals together, some players might have had a glass of wine, but the extravagance of older times is gone. I’m sure I had a few wild ones over the years, it’s the really wild ones that you can’t remember.
That’s how it was then, even seven or eight years ago it was the norm, to have a blow-out in January or February and recharge the batteries for the second half of the season.
I saw a photo of a Rangers player getting sick on the side of the pitch at their Tenerife training camp this week – he may have found the conditions too hot – but a few years ago there would have been a few of us throwing up on the sideline.
Football is a very serious business now now due to the massive financial rewards for both players and clubs, so in terms of what is expected of players, they have no room to drop their game.
United have not performed for a few months so the last thing they need is a lack of fitness, and the players will look to what they should have been doing all along this season. They have no one else to blame now.
United winning would be a really big statement and it would put pressure on Chelsea and Arsenal as they know they’d be in for a fight, especially as the Gunners have dropped off a bit lately and Chelsea aren’t as good as they were in the first half of the season.
United are on a run but if they can actually beat Tottenham, they will be right back in the mix for a Champions League slot as the manager wants to stake a claim for the job long-term.
United away to Spurs is the main game in the Premier League this weekend, but I have my own match to think about.
I am back working with the Irish U16 team, working with Paul Osam and his staff.
We play Germany in a friendly in La Manga tomorrow and it’s good to play these teams, see what the standard is like in our squad compared to theirs.
I learn from working with these talented young Irish players and I hope they can learn something from me.