Manchester United rediscovering winning habit but Solskjaer guilty of too many changes in poor Norwich display

James Robson
Evening Standard
POOL/AFP via Getty Images
POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to turn Manchester United into serial winners.

That may be some way off yet, but they are already getting used to going deep into competitions under his rule.

Faire défiler pour accéder au contenu
Annonce

A place in the FA Cup semi-finals and a trip to Wembley was secured via Harry Maguire’s extra-time winner against Norwich City to offer further endorsement of the revolution he is undertaking at Old Trafford.

Now the job is to go at least one step further than in the Carabao Cup, from which they were eliminated in the last four by Manchester City.

The Premier League title is the ultimate aim – but until then knockout competitions will serve as a guide to the progress being made by his developing squad, who are also all but certain of a place in the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

Maguire’s 118th-minute goal secured a 2-1 win in a gruelling match that wasn’t easy on the eye or the nerves of either side.

Daniel Farke’s 10 men made it 30 minutes of attack versus defence, with Solskjaer using six substitutes and ending the game with all four of his strikers on the pitch.

Even then it took a centre-back to come up with the breakthrough. If making Maguire United’s captain was one of Solskjaer’s most inspired decisions since taking on the job, his starting XI for this match was one of his most questionable.

Out went Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba. In came Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata, who were largely ineffective.

Solskjaer believes his emerging side needs to know the feeling of being winners. Any trophy will do. He just wants them to get comfortable with the idea of picking up silverware.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made eight changes to his Manchester United side for the FA Cup quarter-final against Norwich (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made eight changes to his Manchester United side for the FA Cup quarter-final against Norwich (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The FA Cup would be a fitting start, given it was mentor Sir Alex Ferguson’s first trophy at United. And the values of his former manager are what Solskjaer has sought to replicate as part of his cultural reset.

While there are increasingly signs of his overhaul taking shape – namely a 13-game unbeaten run going into this match – he, too, needs something tangible to show for his work.

A first trophy would provide a platform for a planned title challenge next season, and the FA Cup represents his best chance of opening his account.

Which is why wholesale changes to the side that overwhelmed Sheffield United on Wednesday came as such a surprise.

Eight players from that 3-0 win were left out and United’s flowing football went with them. They dominated possession, but created next to nothing in the first half.

Odion Ighalo worked hard and made the ball stick on the odd occasion United found him, but the lack of service into the box left the Nigeria striker a frustrated figure.

The Red Devils looked on course for the last four after Odion Ighalo's goal, only for Todd Cantwell to equalise and force extra-time (Getty Images)
The Red Devils looked on course for the last four after Odion Ighalo's goal, only for Todd Cantwell to equalise and force extra-time (Getty Images)

Even still, he looked like getting Solskjaer out of trouble when firing United ahead six minutes into the second half.

But Todd Cantwell’s equaliser forced extra-time, which Norwich had to play with 10 men after Timm Klose was sent off after 88 minutes for a professional foul on Ighalo.

By that point Solskjaer had sent for Pogba, Rashford, Martial and Mason Greenwood to boost his forward options.

He set up with a 4-2-4 formation for the majority of extra-time, with Pogba and Bruno Fernandes pushing up in a bid to overload in attack.

But with Norwich camping out in their box, United struggled to find space to exploit. It is to their credit that they eventually found a way through – Pogba’s cross and Martial’s touch eventually allowing Maguire to flash the ball past Tim Krul.

Solskjaer called for the attacking cavalry, but had centre-back Harry Maguire to thank for securing United's progress at Carrow Road (Manchester United via Getty Images)
Solskjaer called for the attacking cavalry, but had centre-back Harry Maguire to thank for securing United's progress at Carrow Road (Manchester United via Getty Images)

It was United’s worst performance of the restart and Solskjaer could so easily have been undone by his over-tinkering.

Instead, his side found a way to win – which is another good habit to pick up.

“It’s important to get to the final,” said Solskjaer. “Last year we got to the quarters, now we’re at Wembley in the semis.

“I spoke about it before the game - for this team to get to the first final together that will help the winning culture. Now we’re in the semis and I’m delighted with that.”

Read more

Norwich 1-2 Man United: Maguire's strike seals FA Cup semi-final spot

À lire aussi