Manchester United reporter notebook: Mood lifted after victory at Chelsea

Sky Sports News' North West reporter James Cooper assesses how the Chelsea win has lifted mood at Man Utd and their top-four hopes

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates Man Utd's 2-0 win over Chelsea with Odion Ighalo
Image: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates Man Utd's 2-0 win over Chelsea with Odion Ighalo

When I sat down and chatted with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last Friday he was eulogising about the positive effects of the winter break, confident it's a step in the right direction for the Premier League.

Solskjaer spoke about the break giving his squad time to refresh, reset and refocus and all three factors were in evidence at Stamford Bridge on Monday night, with the sheer energy of the performance in stark contrast to the lethargy and tired legs glimpsed on occasion at Old Trafford a fortnight ago against Wolves.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United's win against Chelsea in the Premier League

The visitors deserved their victory and a fourth clean sheet in a row in all competitions against Chelsea. If the alarm bells had been ringing following consecutive 2-0 defeats to Liverpool and Burnley, suddenly the mood of the squad and the environment they find themselves in has changed.

Top four still a target

Manchester United are back in the hunt for the top four and are still very much alive in the Europa League and FA Cup. There are some injury concerns, but players are starting to come back too, with Monday's back five showing a collective will to defend exemplified by last-ditch challenges from Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Eric Bailly.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United at Molineux
Image: Manchester United's Aaron Wan-Bissaka played key defensive role in win at Chelsea

This is a United side who have demonstrated the ability to get results against the toughest of opponents. There's an argument it's not their rivals at the top of the table who will determine their Champions League destiny, but the teams battling to stay in the Premier League.

United should have enough quality to progress past Club Brugge over two legs in the Europa League, but Sunday's home contest with Watford boasts all the hallmarks of the sort banana skin that's seen the club take one step forward and two steps back this season.

Then there's personnel. Scott McTominay should be pushing for a first-team return very soon but the future's less clear for Marcus Rashford, while no one quite knows what will happen with Paul Pogba.

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Marcus Rashford injured his back after coming on as a substitute against Wolves
Image: Marcus Rashford remains sidelined for Manchester United with a back injury

What now for Pogba?

The frustration with the France midfielder is, and I've said it before plenty of times, United are still better and stronger with Pogba than they are without him. What's certain though, is that as the clock ticks down towards the European Championships and the opening of the next transfer window, the war of words will intensify.

Mino Raiola knows he has a valuable asset in Pogba and has dropped a couple of grenades this week. But he's also wise enough to know the midfielder's value is hard to glean when he's only played 71 minutes since September and doesn't seem to be part of the group right now.

United will want big money for Pogba if they decide to sanction his departure,. His wages will also add up to a huge commitment from any suitor for a player who has spent almost 23 weeks on the sidelines this season.

Paul Pogba has been out of the Manchester United squad due to an ankle problem
Image: Paul Pogba's future at Old Trafford remains the subject of much speculation

What the victory over Chelsea also showed was a possible future for United without Pogba next season, Solskjaer would like another midfielder regardless of the Frenchman's fate plus a striker, a wide player and possibly both a centre-back and a full-back.

The winter break has given United another foundation to build upon, but they have spurned plenty of similar situations in this campaign. What will be intriguing is when and whether Pogba gets an opportunity to pull on a red shirt again.

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