Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a fan of statistics and can tell you that his Manchester United players run on, creating more and giving up fewer chances than at any time during his two years at Old Trafford. . But really there are only a few numbers he needs to use to show the progress his team is making.
On New Year’s Day 2020, United was fifth in the standings, 24 points behind Liverpool. On the first day of 2021, with a victory over Aston Villa, they will be at the top with Liverpool. They may not win the title this season, but at least they gave themselves a chance.
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Solskjaer, Marcus Rashford and David De Gea were put in front of the television cameras after the narrow 1-0 victory over the wolves and all lowered the prospect of a challenge in the new year. But the truth, whether they want to admit it or not, is that the positive results of the next two league games against Aston Villa on Friday and Liverpool at Anfield on January 17 will put United right on the threshold of the race. Sir Alex Ferguson was in power the last time supporters spoke of the title in January.
Solskjaer, the winner of six Ferguson titles, knows better than most that it is not enough to sniff out a challenge at a club the size and ambition of United. Instead, he will have to win it before all who doubt it will be silenced.
He also knows that it doesn’t take long to shake the boat at Old Trafford, and although there is a clear sense of optimism around the club heading into the New Year, it can disappear very quickly. United ended 2019 on a nine-game unbeaten streak before winning just two of the next seven to let Solskjaer face more questions about his job. Even recently, on December 8 and that catastrophic exit from the Champions League from RB Leipzig, the Norwegian was asked in press conferences about his future.
Solskjaer, however, remained adamant that he was the right man, while behind the scenes, club bosses insisted on approaching employers and firing managers since Ferguson retired in 2013 and that the 47-year-old would be offered more time and more money.
He is not the type who publicly criticizes the owners or senior management, but sources told ESPN that he has made it clear that the team needs at least one central defender before they can match Liverpool and Manchester City.
There remains a feeling among many supporters that the club is more interested in investing in the team when trying to return to the Champions League profitable, rather than taking the last step towards winning trophies. Regardless of the progress made this season, fans will expect funds to be made available to new players next summer, even during the financial uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a New Year’s message to supporters before Villa’s visit, Executive Vice President Ed Woodward promised more team investment and those words will have to be sustained if Solskjaer turns this team into a consistent competitor for the biggest trophies at home. and in Europe.
“The team did well in difficult circumstances and, at the time of writing, we have won more points per game since the restart of the project last June than any other Premier League club,” Woodward said. “We also have four more wins and nine more goals than at the same time last season. There are a lot of positive statistics like this that show the progress Ole has made over the last year. But they only tell part of the story. .
“Equally important is the work we see behind the scenes to build a winning culture, in line with the club’s traditions of attacking football played by young and hardworking teams that fuse the actual talent with top recruits.
The statistics, the mood and the table in the Premier League show that all progress is being made at Man United, but the goal must be to turn it into something more tangible. As Woodward remarked: “As always, our priority is to win trophies, and with the New Year’s team competing on four fronts, we are optimistic about the way forward in 2021.”
A first trophy – perhaps a first title – are realistic goals in 2021 and Solskjaer will not have to remind us that the only statistic that really matters to a United manager is his silverware number.