How Solskjaer has transformed Man Utd’s fortunes

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MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Feb 11, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – When Manchester United
were paired with Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last-16 draw in
December there seemed likely to be only one winner.

United were stuck in a rut under the management of Jose Mourinho, while
the French champions topped the toughest section of the group stages.

However, much has changed in the two months since. United go into
Tuesday’s first leg at Old Trafford on a run of 10 wins and one draw since
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced the sacked Mourinho.

PSG will have to cope without the injured Neymar for both legs of the tie
due to injury and Edinson Cavani is also missing.

AFP Sports looks at five things Solskjaer has changed to give United hope
of making the quarter-finals for the first time in five years.

Playing football the United way

“To win games you need to pass it forward and run forward.” The basics
under Solskjaer may seem simple but they contrast sharply with Mourinho’s
conservative approach that left a host of expensively assembled stars
paralysed by fear of making mistakes.

The Norwegian spent more than a decade as a United player learning from
Alex Ferguson and is trying to replicate the same aggressive, attacking
approach ingrained in him by the Scot, who twice won the Champions League in
charge at Old Trafford.

“It’s a winning identity, it’s a confident identity. We want to take
risks. We want to go for the second, the third and the fourth goal because
that’s just how we do things at Manchester United,” Solskjaer told Sky
Sports.

Worryingly for PSG, it is not a naive approach solely based on bombing
forward. Wins away at Tottenham and Arsenal in recent weeks exhibited
United’s pace and firepower on the counter-attack, which could be the key to
winning this tie.

Pogba leads way

While Mourinho butted heads with and routinely dropped Paul Pogba,
Solskjaer has built his side around the French World Cup winner, with
stunning results.

Pogba has scored eight goals and provided five assists in his past 10
games.

“Before the coach arrived I was in the shadows, on the bench, and I
accepted that,” said Pogba. “It is a pleasure to play again. Now I am always
smiling.”

Rashford reborn

The fact Marcus Rashford was rested at Fulham to keep him fresh for PSG,
while Romelu Lukaku was handed a rare start says a lot for the change in his
fortunes under Solskjaer.

The 21-year-old was never trusted with a consistent run of games as a
central striker under Mourinho. In United’s last European home game against
Young Boys, the Portuguese coach did not hide his disgust when he missed an
early chance.

No longer fearing the consequences of a missed opportunity, Rashford has
scored six goals in eight starts since the change in management and finally
looks set to deliver on his abundant potential.

All smiles

Solskjaer outlined his first task as putting smiles back on the players’
faces but the feel-good factor has galvanised the fans just as much as his
squad.

Once a European fortress, United’s three home games in the group stages
produced just one goal and Sevilla also secured a rare away win in the
Champions League to dump United out at this stage last season.

The decibel level has risen since Solskjaer’s arrival, even for humble
opposition in Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Reading, Brighton and Burnley. PSG
are the first big ticket of the new era and can be assured they will face a
cauldron of noise.

Lindelof like a new signing

Mourinho spent most of his final season complaining that he had not been
furnished with the experienced centre-back he demanded in pre-season, while
chopping and changing his defence.

Solskjaer has put his faith in Victor Lindelof, who started the first 10
games under the new boss before being left out of Saturday’s 3-0 win at
Fulham to rest for Tuesday’s challenge.

Confidence restored, the Swede has played a big part in United’s goals
conceded dropping from 1.5 per game this season before Mourinho’s departure
to 0.6 per game since.

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