The 5-1 mauling of Cardiff City in the Premier League last weekend, signalled the beginning of a new era at Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer began his reign as Man United interim boss on a flying note. It was the first time the Red Devils had put five past any opponent in the Premier League since Sir Alex Ferguson’s side last did it in 2013.
You can’t judge a manager or team by a single game of football. But the first match of the post José Mourinho era showed a lot of promise both from the players’ and the manager’s standpoint. The biggest question now is: Can he lead the team to a top four finish at the end of the season?
Achieving the goal under Mourinho had become doubtful given the results from the beginning of the campaign. The manager’s style and attitude showed things were not going to be much different moving forward. That may have accounted for why he was let go to give another person the opportunity to try and salvage a top four place while it was still attainable.
That does not mean it will be an easy task to accomplish. The obstacles are still many and with all the teams occupying the top four places at the moment showing good form, it’s difficult to see which side United will overtake.
Liverpool and Manchester City look to be in a league of their own. The two sides have shared top spot between them from the beginning of the campaign. But the Reds have now established a four-point lead after going unbeaten all season.
However, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham has refused to be undone by the duo. The north London side made a statement of intent by thrashing Everton 6-2 at the Goodison Park recently to move to within two points of second-placed City. Spurs have lost just four times in the league this season and are on a four-game unbeaten run that stretches back to the 4-2 derby loss against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
At fourth place is Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea. The Blues emerged as title contenders earlier in the campaign. But they have blown hot and cold recently as results have been a mixed bag. But counting them out of a top-four finish, even the title race so early could be a mistake despite currently being nine points behind table toppers Liverpool.
Unai Emery’s Arsenal occupy fifth position on goal difference with their London rivals. The Spanish manager has demonstrated his ability to do big things elsewhere with his exploits at Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain. He has also shown he means business at Arsenal having led the team to a 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions that recently ended in a 3-2 loss to Southampton.
Sealing a top-four place will be a priority for him. And he has the materials to help him achieve his goal. New signing Lucas Torreira is doing great things in the Gunners’ midfield as with some other teammates. Forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is in top goalscoring form as he leads the Premier League charts with 12 strikes.
These are the sides Solskjaer will need to beat, at least two of them, to a much-coveted top four position at the end of the campaign. United will need to not only win consistently, but must also hope other competitors drop points. In fact, a major capitulation will be necessary to close an eight-point gap and go one better.
So the Norwegian manager will not only need to deploy a tactical masterpiece that will see his players get the ghosts from Mourinho’s time off their backs but will also require a slice of luck to pull off the feat. Going by how the season has been so far, it will be extremely difficult to do it. But if Solskjaer’s good start is anything to go by, and the drafting of the good ‘ol Sir Alex to help with the task, one cannot rule out United’s chance.