Manchester United are going to be confident about their chances of finishing the season strongly. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has enjoyed a mostly positive time in charge of the club after being appointed as the interim manager. He has impressed a lot of people with the way he has placed emphasis on free and attacking football. This is something that was lacking under Jose Mourinho. As a result, he has been appointed on a permanent basis.
The primary beneficiaries have been three attacking players, Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba. There has never been any doubting of the technical ability that is held by the three players, but they were shackled in the old system. Pundits regularly criticised Pogba, in particular, for his languid style on the pitch. Since the managerial change, the Frenchman has been one of the most effective players in the Premier League. His current attacking contribution is 11 goals and nine assists in the league, which is an excellent return for a central midfield player.
Although the improvement of Pogba has been clearest, both Rashford and Lukaku have benefited from the appointment of Solskjaer. The initial decision to start the former as a central striker has helped both players. For Rashford, he has finally been given a chance to show he can be a consistent goal threat operating in a striking role. Meanwhile, it has given the latter the wake-up call that he perhaps needed.
The style of Mourinho didn’t bring the best out of Lukaku and at times, he looked ineffective up front. The time out of the first team, coupled with the new attacking style has breathed life into the Belgian’s game. This is the player that stood out at the World Cup and he is now performing to a high standard in a Manchester United shirt. His standout performance came against PSG as he showed excellent movement, end product and work rate, encapsulating what the team want from him.
Three successive braces before the international break suggested that Lukaku was finally reaching his best and Manchester United will be hoping that the improvement continues when the Premier League returns.
Solskjaer will face a difficult decision in terms of his team selection. It is now the stage of the season that he needs his most dangerous players on the pitch together. Pogba, Rashford and Lukaku are those individuals at Old Trafford right now. One of the strikers may be forced into a wide role. Since the managerial change, it has been Lukaku that has been more effective in that role. However, there will be fears that it could prevent him from being as threatening as he can be.
The final weeks of the season represent a sliding doors moment for Manchester United. If they manage to qualify for the Champions League, the decision to appoint Solskjaer will be vindicated and they will go into the summer with renewed optimism. If they fail to finish in the top four and fall out of the Champions League with a whimper, another summer of uncertainty will be on the horizon.
It is going to be fascinating to watch. If they manage to find a set-up that gets the best out of their three danger men, it would go a long way to ensuring the latter scenario is avoided and long term success would be a real possibility.