Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got what Jose Mourinho didn’t at Man Utd – but could face same fate

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is looking to end Man Utd’s trophy drought this season and has invested heavily whilst a new deal underlines the club’s faith in him – but sooner or later he must produce

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  • 11:48, 13 Oct 2021
  • Updated11:50, 13 Oct 2021
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What is a contract nowadays in football? A way of your employer keeping you employed for as long as they see fit, not as long as the duration of said contract.

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer penned an extension at Manchester United back in August, keeping him at Old Trafford until at least 2024. In theory.

But Jose Mourinho signed a new contract of his own back in 2018 and was sacked later that year.

A show of faith yes. A show of commitment, not really. Results will determine that and Solskjaer has a big six weeks coming up.

United are determined to make this relationship work. They stumbled across the Norwegian, rather than targeted him, but all's well that ends well.

An impressive audition got him the job with the affection of the fans no doubt seen as a big win for the club's hierarchy.

Popular decisions often keep the masses on side, for a period at least, and Solskjaer's history at the club will afford him more leeway than most.

Nearly three years in though and there is little to show for all their work, even if United are heading in the right direction.

This season feels more defining that the previous two for obvious reasons. Money has been spent, time given, now go and make it all worth it.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was well backed in the summer and is now under pressure to deliver
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The state of play

It depends if you go by the table or you go by performances. That has been the tale of last season and filtered into the current one.

Solskjaer led United to second place last season, but there were still major question marks. His team regularly needed to go a goal down before waking up, often needed big names to haul them out of trouble – a trait which eventually saw Gary Neville label them "an odd bunch".

An unbeaten away record is nothing to be sniffed at however.

This season it's much the same. United sit just two points off leaders Chelsea after seven games and are very much in the mix.

That said, the fixture schedule has been kind to them, and when they have come up against a decent opponent in Everton they failed to perform.

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Having lost to Aston Villa at Old Trafford many will feel they were lucky not to lose successive league games on their own patch.

A win on the opening day against Leeds led to optimism and was followed by the signings of Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo.

That came after Jadon Sancho was finally signed, perhaps a year later than planned. Nevertheless Solskjaer certainly got what he wanted with a centre-half and a winger firmly on his agenda.

That was more than Mourinho got in his final summer with a central defender also on his wishlist as the likes of Harry Maguire and Toby Alderweireld were discussed.

He didn't get his way however and that bitterness seemed to carry over into the season before he was eventually dismissed.

Solskjaer therefore seems to have won where his predecessor lost. A sign that the board saw long-term benefits in his targets and clearly his methods.

Getting the best from Cristiano Ronaldo will be key

The challenge

Having the players though is one thing, getting them to click is another.

Thomas Tuchel won the Champions League with a squad that Frank Lampard was struggling to establish in the top four last season.

Solskjaer has struggled to find the right blend thus far with plenty of changes occurring, almost on a weekly basis.

Yes he has his favourites and they tend to start most games, but around that, finding the individuals to compliment his match winners is proving a hard task.

The United boss must also keep a harmonious group, which in itself is a challenge as he has one less competition to play with having exited the Carabao Cup at an early stage.

A much changed side lost to West Ham and means fringe players may have even less of an opportunity. Defeat in their Champions League opener also leaves little margin for error and Solskjaer may have to keep picking his big guns in Europe.

The likes of Jesse Lingard, Edinson Cavani and Donny van de Beek, all talented individuals, are struggling to get a look in and have started just one league game between them.

Victor Lindelof is set to be recalled for a set of crucial games
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Lingard has rejected a new deal whilst Cavani has been advised to consider an early exit.

It is the forthcoming set of fixtures though where Solskjaer will need his squad to step up, especially in defence. Varane has come in and immediately usurped Victor Lindelof.

The Swede was Maguire's regular partner last season but has found himself looking on this term.

Varane's injury on international duty means he could miss games with Leicester, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City and the double-header with Atalanta. All defining games in United's season, even at this early stage.

Lindelof, who is poised to return, had his critics last season and some felt he wasn't the ideal foil for Maguire. A demotion to the bench may have affected his mindset, even if he was declared "an important player" by his manager.

That importance will now be put to the test in several crunch games.

Solskjaer's record against his domestic rivals is anything but impressive. Last term, against the so-called big six, United won just two of ten games.

This season coaches like Rafa Benitez and Unai Emery have also shown they can get the better of Solskjaer's side, even with less resources, and even if results may have gone United's way.

That trend though cannot continue.

Some see world class managers at rival clubs as difference makers in the title race
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A point of difference

This season's top four seems to have already been decided. Chelsea, City, Liverpool and United. The order is anyone's guess.

The former two have shown their hands early and they look a good ones. Liverpool, whilst maybe not hitting the level of their rivals, have enough to prove they'll be there or thereabouts.

United though have questions to answer. Last season's second place finish was progress, but it can't be ignored that Liverpool and Chelsea experienced difficulties.

Both are now getting back to a level where a title charge could be possible.

It means United and Solskjaer could spend well over £100m and lose two league positions if they finish fourth with their manager very much under the spotlight.

Will Man Utd win a trophy this season? Comment down below

Jamie Carragher commented earlier this year: "I don't get this feeling that Man Utd can't compete. I feel that if Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or maybe Thomas Tuchel had Man Utd's squad you'd feel they could win the league.

"Man Utd this year, finishing third or fourth, that can't be acceptable, after finishing second last season."

Neville accepted that: "I think with the manager you could argue he's got to prove himself quickly."

Guardiola, Klopp and Tuchel have four Champions Leagues between them as well as 14 league titles.

Solskjaer's resume doesn't come close with two leagues in his time at Molde his finest achievements thus far.

The United board don't seem to care much however as they continue to invest in the 48-year-old. They might start caring though if the next month doesn't go their way and another trophyless season is on the cards.

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