Reports of the Norwegian’s demise were proven greatly exaggerated, as a 2-0 win at Chelsea inspired by his main man showed he could be here to stay
As Manchester United lined up for Monday’s FA Cup test against Chelsea, all eyes were on two men.
For the first time since taking over from Jose Mourinho interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was feeling the heat. His side were thoroughly outclassed midweek by Paris Saint-Germain to leave an uphill struggle to make the Champions League last eight, raising doubts over whether the Norwegian was the right man for the job having tasted defeat for the first time on the bench.
On the pitch, meanwhile, Paul Pogba had his own critics to silence. Transformed since the dark days of Mourinho, the Frenchman nonetheless suffered a regression on Tuesday with an unnecessary late foul on Dani Alves that earned him a second yellow card that rules him out of the return fixture.
Pogba has been a revelation under Solskjaer, but like his manager the midfielder needed to show he could deliver when it most counted. He did all that and more in a superlative display that sent United marching into the next round and piled further pressure on the beleaguered Chelsea supremo Maurizio Sarri.
Unwilling or, perhaps, unable to meet Chelsea’s exhausting high-octane approach head on after struggling to keep up in a hectic opening to proceedings, Solskjaer decided that less was more at Stamford Bridge. Sarri’s men were granted the lion’s share of possession and invited to hurt the visitors in any way they could, a risky strategy that threatened to backfire early on when Gonzalo Higuain was gifted a free header in the area.
Happily for the visitors, the Argentine steered his effort wide of compatriot Sergio Romero’s left-hand post and United earned a reprieve for their somewhat slapdash marking. That near-miss prompted a general tightening across the back and, while Eden Hazard’s quick feet were a constant thorn in the Reds’ side, the Belgian’s slippery dribbling did not translate in further danger for Romero.
It was at the zenith of Chelsea’s dominance that United found the breakthrough courtesy of Pogba. Breaking on the left off a pass from the equally excellent Juan Mata, he waited just long enough for Ander Herrera to break into the box on the shoulder of Marcos Alonso, apparently too preoccupied with chasing butterflies under the floodlights in the west London evening to notice his countryman moving for goal. Pogba’s cross was executed perfectly and Herrera barely had to break stride to nod past Kepa and open the scoring.
A matter of minutes later, it became all too clear that the Blues had failed to learn their lesson. Once more a passage of broken play in the middle of the field led to a United player, this time Marcus Rashford and this time on the right wing, breaking clear with no marker in sight. And once again no Chelsea defender had the presence of mind to pick up the midfielder decked in red who had ghosted through their porous backline to bear down on Kepa.
Herrera’s provider was ready to turn scorer. Rashford’s cross was met with a storming header in glorious solitary bliss and Pogba added his own strike to the earlier assist. Two goals to the good at the break, the rest of the tie was almost a non-contest. Chelsea, huffed, puffed, took even more of the ball; but they found no way past a formidable United defence and failed to muster a single shot on target across the 45 minutes.
Having made the difference in the Chelsea area earlier Herrera and Pogba tucked alongside Nemanja Matic after the break to form an unbeatable barrier, capping a terrific all-round performance from Solskjaer’s men as a whole and the Frenchman in particular. Even taking into account the Blues’ own current woes this was a masterclass of how to play football without the ball, measured, tactically responsive and fluid and above all utterly effective from the away team.
With a goal contribution every 68 minutes in the Solskjaer at the time of scoring the midfielder has been absolutely vital to United’s post-Mourinho renaissance and he proved decisive again to book the club’s passage to the FA Cup quarters. Equal credit, however, belongs to the rookie Norwegian, who has ridden out this first crisis – at Old Trafford, after all, one is never more than 90 minutes away from perceived meltdown – to prove that talk of his being out of his depth is at the very least premature.
This accomplished 2-0 victory will not, of course, banish memories of Tuesday’s defeat by the same margin against a PSG side missing the likes of Neymar and Edinson Cavani. United were outmatched by one of the strongest teams in Europe and, barring a minor miracle, will soon see their interest in the Champions League ended.
Solskjaer is equally an easy target for critics: a relative novice on the bench in one of the world’s most demanding jobs, any weaknesses will logically see demands for a more experienced head to take over at the end of the season.
He still has plenty of admirers though. “He has got them into the top four – something no-one thought was possible this season – but they lose one game to a team full of superstars and people start talking sh*t again,” former United star Dimitar Berbatov fired in typically colourful terms to Betfair in the aftermath of Champions League disappointment and as the usual vultures began to circle.
“It’s the way of the world these days but everyone who understands football knows what a good job Ole has done.” Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have voiced similar opinions: forget Mauricio Pochettino or any other potential suitor, Ole is the man for the job.
The Champions League trophy may be a step too far for Solskjaer and Pogba this season. But Monday’s masterclass keeps the FA Cup on the horizon, while if the Reds can keep up their form in the Premier League a place in Europe’s premier tournament, a near-impossibility a matter of weeks ago, is well within reach. A slip is not a fall, the old adage goes – and the two masterminds behind United’s recent revival have dusted themselves off and shown that they remain on the right track.
Chelsea confirm deal for 20-year-old striker
Chelsea have confirmed a new long-term deal for 20-year-old striker, Armando Broja.
The new deal will see Broja remain at Chelsea until 2026.
Chelsea disclosed this in a statement via their website on Sunday.
The statement read, “Armando Broja has signed a new long-term contract at Chelsea FC that commits him to Stamford Bridge until at least the summer of 2026.
“The young striker, who will turn 20 in September, spent last season on loan in the Eredivisie with Vitesse Arnhem, where he made 34 appearances.”
Reacting, Broja said: “I’m really excited to be signing a new contract with Chelsea.
“Having come through the Academy here it was a special moment for me to make my first-team debut last year, before gaining further experience on loan at Vitesse last season.
“I want to build on these foundations and I’m really looking forward to progressing and making an impact.”
Saliba breaks silence after leaving Arsenal on loan to Marseille
William Saliba has said he is joining “one of the great French clubs” in Marseille after sealing his latest loan spell away from Arsenal.
The 20-year-old was signed by the Gunners for £27m in 2019.
But Saliba is yet to make a single appearance for the Premier League club and is now beginning his third loan move away from north London.
He was immediately loaned back to Saint-Etienne after signing for Arsenal, before spending the second half of last season at Nice.
Saliba has now signed up for the 2021/2022 campaign with Marseille.
“I am very proud to join one of the best French clubs.
“I cannot wait to be on the Orange Vélodrome pitch. Where I am from, in Paris, lots of those close to me are for Marseille, I am proud to wear this shirt,” Saliba told Marseille’s official website.
England vs Italy: UEFA receives petitions to replay Euro 2020 final
Some England fans have started a petition, asking that UEFA order a replay of the Euro 2020 final.
They feel the defeat to Italy on penalties was “unfair”, according to the Daily Mail.
Italy have been accused of playing “dirty”, after their captain Giorgio Chiellini pulled on Bukayo Saka’s collar, dragging him onto the pitch in the latter stages of the game.
While some fans have taken to social media to insist he deserved a red card for the move, he eventually got away with a yellow.
The refereeing decisions have been widely disputed since and a number of England fans have taken it upon themselves to start up petitions.
One petition, in its description, outlines: “Bukayo Saka was mistreated during the match between England and Italy as he was dragged down by his shirt by Giorgio Cheiellini and given a yellow card when it CLEARLY should’ve been a red card. I do strongly believe that the referee was biased and in favour of Italy.”
Another argues Chiellini should have been given a red card, and that a rematch should take place with a “non-biased referee”.
Currently, there are several petitions that exist, but they are struggling to gain any substantial traction.
Of the five petitions so far, one is approaching 1,500 signatures, while the others have meagre numbers.
Music1 year ago
Jay Famous – Forgiveness
News4 months ago
10 things you need to know today Monday 29/03/2021
Music3 years ago
Music4 months ago
Former Bad Boy Rapper, Black Rob is dead
News1 year ago
Diezani must face N17.6bn money laundering charges – Court
Education1 year ago
WASSCE: Lagos private schools to resume August 3
Hottest Gist2 months ago
COALITION OF CONCERNED IRU – VICTORIA ISLAND RESIDENTS
Education3 years ago
What candidates with issues of biometrics should do