Manchester United reporter notebook: Bruno Fernandes effect, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's derby inexperience

Solskjaer did not feature much against City as a player; Fernandes making a difference already; Odion Ighalo impressing

Manchester United move up to 5th after beating Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League
Image: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is aiming to do the double over rivals Manchester City this season

Sky Sports News' North West reporter James Cooper looks at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's lack of Manchester derby experience and how Bruno Fernandes has galvanised the club...

The Manchester derby is something of a peculiarity for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Of course he realises the importance of the game and the impact of both victory and defeat in the fixture, but it was not a contest he was involved in much as a player.

When he came to Manchester in 1996, United and City were in different divisions, but injuries also limited his involvement. Tellingly, he also adds in conversation that he sometimes was not picked by Sir Alex Ferguson, so his record for United against City, as a player, reads four matches played and zero wins. He was part of two victorious squads as an unused substitute.

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Such lessons have taught him a great deal about how to tend to his own flock, about his players' determination and the ability of some to soar when a big opportunity is offered.

Right now the United manager is in a good place. He has masterminded a nine-game unbeaten run consisting of six wins and three draws in all competitions with just two goals conceded, the latest success coming on Thursday night with a comfortable 3-0 win at Derby to set up an FA Cup quarter-final clash at Norwich.

Watching his players go through their paces too at Carrington, it is easy to see the benefits of finding some momentum. There is plenty of laughter and Solskjaer feels his squad are starting to believe they really can defeat the sides they are confronted with, a belief he and his team-mates had in abundance when they were wearing the famous red shirts.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Everton's draw with United in the Premier League

Fernandes fitting right in

There's no doubting the Bruno effect, either. On the pitch, Fernandes has caught the eye and demanded more from his colleagues. They, in turn, are starting to do things rarely seen in the past couple of seasons and their manager is delighted his players are beginning to take risks and ask for the ball in tight areas.

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Such ingredients are hallmarks of the way Pep Guardiola sets his teams up and in talking about the City boss it is clear Solskjaer has been watching very closely how the squads at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and here in Manchester's blue corner have been constructed.

Fernandes is making, or allowing, his team-mates to up their game and one in particular, Juan Mata, appears to be on the same wavelength. Others are stepping up too, Fred is starting to blossom in the heart of the midfield and Nemanja Matic, who many may have consigned to the Old Trafford summer exit door, appears to have found a new lease of life.

Bruno Fernandes scored from long range to bring United level 1:54
Solskjaer says he was impressed by Bruno Fernandes' character when he went to scout him in Portugal

Solskjaer knew Fernandes was a special talent as soon as he saw him playing in the flesh in Lisbon in January and, while the due diligence done on the player also emphasised his strengths of character, the midfielder also demands the highest standards off the pitch too from the United staff, another important facet of putting together a winning and successful culture.

Solskjaer may have known he had found another leader too in the Portugal international but Fernandes' passion and demands have possibly allowed Harry Maguire to take another step forward too, with the onus not solely being on the centre-back to drive the team forward.

At a time when some may debate just how many United players would get into a team representing both sides of Manchester, even City fans might be honest enough to admit that Fernandes could stake a claim to a spot in the midfield.

"Shark-like" Ighalo

Solskjaer understood the challenges of coming to a club from the outside as a player, but he deserves credit for the adjustment all four of his signings have made to switching to life in the Old Trafford goldfish bowl, at a time when it has been far harder to step into such a difficult environment.

Those recruitment successes have also been encouraging to a manager planning more acquisitions in the summer as he looks to shape his squad to what he wants it to be. Add a returning Marcus Rashford to the mix and the signs certainly look more positive.

Manchester United's Odion Ighalo in action during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge 0:56
Odion Ighalo's contract could be extended beyond the end of this season, according to Solskjaer

Solskjaer always stresses that management comes second to playing but you start to see his passion for the game when he talks about players and what they do. In the case of Odion Ighalo, he reassured me that the signing was not about sentiment and granting a life-long dream to a United fan, but about what the striker could bring to his squad.

Yes, of course he needed to bring in a frontman on Deadline Day, but Ighalo is already demonstrating the "shark-like" behaviour in and around the six-yard box that he demands from the likes of Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood.

Those instincts and the knock-on effect they could have on the forwards around him might form a compelling argument to make Ighalo's stay in Manchester longer rather than shorter.

Chances of derby success?

Highlights from Manchester City vs Manchester United in the Premier League 2:54
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from United's win at City in the Premier League in the pair's last meeting

So what about the game itself? Stats show that playing and beating City at Old Trafford in the Premier League is a far harder task than going to the Etihad and getting a win. Solskjaer's already done that, of course, in what was probably the most sparkling half of football that's been seen since he took the reins.

United took the game to City as Tyson Fury did to Deontay Wilder, the only surprise to those watching and the manager himself that the points were not secured by half-time.

Old Trafford used to have a banner in one corner that told the story of how long it had been since City had won a trophy, but that was taken down in 2011 shortly after Solskjaer departed. Since then, United have tasted victory just once in the league on home soil.

The United boss likens the feeling on the training ground to what it was like once upon a time when Sir Alex Ferguson's sides hit their straps in pursuit of end of season silverware. There is a feelgood atmosphere around Carrington at the moment, which those inside will be hoping is not as brittle as its sometimes been of late.

Solskjaer's finally getting bodies back and admitting to an impatience to be back among the Premier League front-runners again. That might be beyond his players this season but a top-four finish and a trophy would certainly provide evidence of substance from a club aiming to rediscover its style again.

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