At Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s press conference ahead of the clash against Tottenham:
Q: A lot of people would look at this game and think, there is the second favourite to be the permanent manager of the Manchester United, and there is the favourite to be the manager of the Man United. As a manager, how do you assess the job that Mauricio Pochettino has done as Tottenham manager?
Solskjaer: He’s done a very good job. That speculation is there for a reason because he’s done well. But it’s not my job to rate all the other managers. My focus is on my job and my team.
The question from the reporter attending the conference in London was a straight one – and Solskjaer’s steely response was perhaps a veil to hide his real emotions to the question. Just a couple of weeks ago the Norwegian had admitted that he would love to stay on as the Manchester United manager after the end of the season. “I understand there are so many managers who would love to be the manager of Manchester United and I am one of them,” the former United striker had said after the away win against Newcastle United.
But despite getting off to a perfect start at the club, there is one name that continues to surround Manchester United’s managerial discussion – the current Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Even before the era of Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford came to an abrupt close, there were rumours that the Red Devils are willing to spend £50m to lure the Argentinian to the club, thus making him the highest earning football manager in the world. The Spurs manager has avoided questions linking him to the club, but in turn, has added fuel to the fire regarding his future, since he never denied the “rumours”. The rumours have prompted Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy to reportedly tell his friends that “he will not allow” Pochettino to leave.
Solskjaer’s big test
After Mourinho’s expulsion, Solskjaer was handed the temporary charge for the remainder of the season – and since his arrival, it has turned into a two-way battle. Under him, there has been a change of fortunes, mood, and results in the camp, with the side winning their last five games in all competitions.
But more than the results, Solskjaer has been praised for diminishing the negativity around the club and allowing players to be more expressive on the field. Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, who faced much criticism from Mourinho, have suddenly become star performers for the club, creating chances and scoring goals. But Tottenham are the first club within the top-six United will have to face this Sunday and Solskjaer would have more than a few reasons in his mind to win this one.
The last time United faced Tottenham, they had suffered a 3-0 defeat at home. Playing the same opposition at Wembley in an away contest is not expected to be any easier. Despite the shock 3-1 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, Spurs have maintained a strong hold in top three of the Premier League table and United need to win the encounter to continue their ascendancy to make it to top four. A loss against Spurs will further raise questions on Solskjaer’s abilities to deliver against big teams.
Change in tactics?
One of the key aspects of Solskjaer’s Manchester United has been the way they have gone about in their attacking duties up front. Pogba has been the primary creator in the midfield and has connected well with Anthony Martial and Rashford up front. Pogba has also been seen running to help the defence line, which has allowed the likes of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw to move further up and help in the attacking. But against Spurs, United might have to stitch a few gaps in the defence, especially with Spurs bringing in in-form Harry Kane, Heung Min-Son and Dele Alli up front.
Solskjaer though has insisted, that he will still look to play attacking football. “You always have to adapt to any opposition. I’ll be aware of their strengths, but I have been brought up in a way that we need to attack teams. That’s our strength as well, going forward and attacking teams. We are not going to get as many chances against these teams as we had in the previous games, so we have to be ready when we get the ball and play well with it,” he said.