Man Utd reporter notebook: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first year as manager

Sky Sports News' North West reporter James Cooper takes a closer look on Solskjaer's first anniversary as boss at Old Trafford

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 06: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manager of Manchester United looks on prior to the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Manchester United at St. James Park on October 06, 2019 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Image: It has been a momentous first year in charge for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

It's a year to the day that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed Manchester United's interim manager. Here, Sky Sports News' North West reporter James Cooper tracks a remarkable 12 months for the man and the club.

It's hard to imagine Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ever going through a year like he's just had at any other stage of his career.

He often talks about "bumps in the road", but some of those bumps have been huge while at the other end of the scale there have been moments of joy and heady emotion that only a select band of managers ever experienced.

Man Utd v Colchester badge 1:50
Highlights of the Carabao Cup quarter-final match between Manchester United and Colchester United

Interim manager: The dream honeymoon

How do you put a year like this into some sort of perspective and then predict how the next year might shape up?

The fact that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer boasts a win ratio of 50 per cent in all competitions and 47.3 per cent in the Premier League is still down to the lightning start that saw 14 wins come in his first 17 games in charge.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer greets Cardiff manager Neil Warnock ahead of his first game in charge of Man Utd
Image: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer greets Cardiff manager Neil Warnock ahead of his first game in charge of Manchester United

That remarkable run began with a 5-1 win in Cardiff on December 22 and ended with the stirring 3-1 Champions League comeback against PSG in Paris which led to "Ole at the wheel" at full-time.

The wheels come off for Ole

No sooner was Ole given the manager's job full-time then those wheels came off.

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A 2-0 defeat at Arsenal in March was followed by an FA Cup exit at the hands of Wolves. Shortly after Ole's men were out of the Champions League too. Barcelona the conquerors.

The poor results kept on coming and the season was capped with a miserable 2-0 home defeat to Cardiff, resulting in a sixth-place finish.

Manchester United's season ended with a dispiriting home defeat to Cardiff
Image: Manchester United's season ended with a dispiriting home defeat to Cardiff

New season: No signs of improvement

"DNA" and the "Manchester United way". Two buzzwords trotted out at many levels of the club.

Solskjaer is trying to build something around those values he holds so dear and to achieve that he's had to make brave decisions about players he didn't want.

​​​​​​​While the likes of Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia have departed under his watch, the exit of Romelu Lukaku was the biggest indicator this manager was determined to make big decisions whatever the short-term cost.

The loss of Lukaku's 42 goals over the previous two seasons without any summer replacement was a huge call. But Solskjaer got what he wanted, admitted it could hurt him, and then jettisoned Alexis Sanchez too.

Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez celebrate Manchester United's win over Newcastle
Image: Letting both Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez leave was another big summer decision for Ole

Injuries played their part earlier in the season. Key figures like Nemanja Matic and Luke Shaw have both spent more than nine weeks on the sidelines, while Paul Pogba's clocked up 11 weeks with no sign of a return despite his manager's prediction that he will play again in 2019.

Solskjaer's spoken of only being able to name his first-choice team twice this season, in the 4-0 opening day win at home to Chelsea and the subsequent draw at Wolves.

Following the romp against Chelsea, United picked up only six points from their next seven Premier League games and only just scraped past Rochdale on penalties in the Carabao Cup.

Green shoots of recovery

Right now it feels as though everyone has been given time to breathe and re-focus but it's hard to ignore that the two results which had the greatest impact on Solskjaer's change in fortunes were against historic foes.

There's no greater motivation for Manchester United than when Liverpool come to town, the game ended in a draw but, coming off the rotten run which had culminated in defeat at Newcastle the week before, it served as a foothold and provided evidence of much-needed resilience and character at Old Trafford.

Marcus Rashford scores for Manchester United
Image: Marcus Rashford scores for Manchester United against Tottenham

Equally, the return of Jose Mourinho to the Theatre of Dreams heralded another step forward for Manchester United.

Marcus Rashford's double in the defeat of Tottenham eased the pressure on Solskjaer and provided a surge of confidence and belief that would stand them in good stead for the short trip to the Etihad three days later.

The 2-1 defeat of Guardiola's champions was surely the best United performance in Solskjaer's time as manager.

Solskjaer has always spoken highly of the Manchester United production line. He's given 10 former academy players their debuts and they have played a huge part in the positive mood around the club right now.

Some of those players were blooded out of necessity because of the injury problems he's had to contend with, but with the club reaching 4000 consecutive games with an academy player in the matchday squad, it looks like the future is bright with the likes of Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams establishing themselves.

greenwood
Image: Mason Greenwood's emergence has been a big plus for the manager

What next?

So what does the immediate future hold as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer enters his second year in charge?

January provides an opportunity to add quality to his squad and he has both the funds and support to do that but no Manchester United manager has ever made big changes in this window.

He does need some more options especially in midfield and in attacking areas. Targets have been selected, but with an acceptance they're more likely to arrive in the summer.

Paul Pogba is another compelling topic and ingredient in the first year's mix. In the summer there were rumblings of discontent, but also a willingness on his part to knuckle down and take on the training workload.

Image: Another big decision lies ahead for Solskjaer: resolving Paul Pogba's future at Old Trafford

As his team-mates spluttered without him in the defeats at Crystal Palace and Newcastle earlier in the season, the recent renaissance has also occurred with him missing from the team.

The return of a Pogba firing on all cylinders could potentially see United take another step forward, but the Frenchman's January fate is as a matter of conjecture right now as his fitness battle, now compounded by illness, shows no sign of ending.

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Solskjaer's targets for the rest of the 2019/20 season are quite simple. The key challenge is to make his players more consistent, something that would see them win the games their reputation and history suggests they should.

A top-four spot has always been a priority and has now become a legitimate target although even Solskjaer admits that's probably the most he can hope for from the Premier League right now.

Then there's the notion of a trophy too, Manchester United breezed through the Europa League and Jose Mourinho demonstrated the value of the tournament as a route to the Champions League.

The domestic League Cup has always been a key competition to Mourinho too and now a two legged semi-final beckons against holders and rivals Manchester City in the New Year.

It's still unclear just who Manchester United are as a side under Solskjaer and what their true identity is.

Pep Guardiola and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer give their reaction to alleged racist abuse in Saturday's Manchester derby
Image: The derby win was surely United's finest performance under Solskjaer

Opposition managers talk about them as a counter-attacking team but their best performance under Solskjaer, in the Manchester Derby, just saw them hit City with everything they had.

Some Manchester United fans may have teetered in the past 12 months but the majority held firm to the notion that Ole is the right man to breathe life back into their club.

However, after a year of such rich emotion, of joy and despair, no one can really tell you yet what the next 12 months might bring at Old Trafford.

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