Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has enjoyed a fine start to life as Manchester United’s interim manager, but he faces the first major test of his tenure when he takes his team to Wembley to take on Tottenham Hotspur this weekend.
United have certainly improved in an attacking sense and will fancy their chances of finding the net on Sunday, but Spurs remain a superior side and should continue their excellent recent run in the Premier League.
Ed Woodward was taking a calculated risk when he decided to appoint Solsjkaer as Jose Mourinho’s successor; while it was clear that the Portuguese had to go after a dismal first half of the season, choosing as his replacement a coach whose only previous experience in the Premier League saw him take Cardiff City down to the second tier was far from a risk-free choice.
Solskjaer, of course, is a legendary figure at Old Trafford and was always likely to bring a feel-good factor back to the home of the 20-time champions, but whether that would be enough to revive United’s top-four hopes was doubtful.
The Norwegian has done a fantastic job so far, though, winning all four of his top-flight matches and also sealing United’s progression to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
There has been plenty of attacking verve and fluency to their displays in the last few weeks – something that was notably lacking during Mourinho’s final few months at the helm – with Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba among those who have benefited from the increased license to attack.
The latter, pushed forward into more of an attacking midfield role, has looked particularly revitalised and is available at 45/17 (Unibet) add to his recent tally of four goals in his last three appearances by scoring anytime.
Solskjaer’s Kind Fixture List
It is, however, impossible to ignore how kind the fixture list has been to Solskjaer up to now, with United having faced Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Bournemouth and Newcastle United.
When playing teams in the bottom half of the table, releasing the shackles and telling your players to go out and enjoy themselves can be sufficient; against a Tottenham team bossed by one of Europe’s top coaches, Solskjaer will need to come up with a more robust plan.
That is why this game will serve as a much sterner examination of his credentials, but it could ultimately be United’s pre-existing defensive shortcomings which cost them at Wembley.
Even in Solskjaer’s short tenure the Red Devils have kept only one clean sheet in four Premier League games; in the campaign as a whole, only Fulham have kept fewer shut-outs and 13 teams have conceded fewer goals.
With that in mind, odds of 14/5 (Unibet) on Spurs scoring more than 2.5 goals look tempting.
On the other side of that equation is Tottenham’s attack, which has been exhilarating in recent weeks – notwithstanding an oddly flat showing in the 1-0 defeat of Chelsea in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final.
Spurs have scored 16 goals in their last five assignments in all competitions, hitting six past Everton and five past Bournemouth.
Son To Sign Off In Style
Pochettino has found a system which is currently bringing the best out of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min, who will fly off to the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates after this fixture and is 7/5 (BetBright) to bid farewell to north London with a goal. If those four forwards are in full flow, it is difficult to see United’s shaky backline being able to cope.
Spurs have had their own troubles defensively, though, even if it has not always resulted in them conceding.
The aforementioned 1-0 reverse against Chelsea is a case in point; Pochettino’s charges were often overrun in midfield and, had their opponents possessed a natural centre-forward, they could easily have lost the match.
Tottenham’s backline was also breached three times in the surprise 3-1 loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers recently, and although they have kept clean sheets against Burnley, Bournemouth and Cardiff in recent weeks, United’s attack is of a different level to those sides.
It is probably for that reason that the odds on both teams to score are low across the board, with the best price of 4/7 offered by Bet365.
In combination with a Tottenham victory, however, the proposition is more attractive, with Betfair, Bet365 and Paddy Power all offering 13/5. Both teams have enough attacking quality to get on the scoresheet at Wembley this weekend, so it is likely to be Spurs’ superior defence which makes the difference.