Solskjaer is just on one big lucky streak at Man United

Date published: Thursday 7th March 2019 2:39

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s luck
Just wanted to back up Calum (Dalot looks like a real class player)’s email pointing out Ole’s lucky streak. Sure, he has made an observable difference to morale and he and Phelan have changed some tactics effectively, but take a look at xPts on – they have 9 points more in the league than expected since he took over, suggesting that, without a run of luck, they would still be well off the top 4 place (I know xG/xPts is not everyone’s cup of tea, but go to the site and look at a load of games and tell me you don’t find yourself saying ‘I watched that 1-0 game, and it did look more like 1-1 or 1-2 as xG suggests’). Anyway, I fully expect United to revert to just below 2 points per game for the run in and finish outside the top 4 on 74 or 75 points.
Shappo (please print this so I can be proved right or wrong)


There’s always one. Well probably more than one, but there was one in the mailbox today. Calum in Wokingham, I am looking at you. Aside from the point that I do not think Leicester were particularly lucky on their way to winning the league, do you really believe that Ole’s great start has been due to “an extraordinary run of luck”? Your mail basically refutes itself but we’ll go through each of your points in turn.

1)     Last minute goal against Southampton (despite playing well) – you said it yourself, we played well (in the second half). Southampton had two raspers and not much else (debatable penalty calls aside). We could have wrapped the match up in the first half but for poor finishing.

2)     75% conversion rate against Palace – sorry what? So finishing the majority of your shots on target is luck? Some would call that clinical finishing.

3)     Liverpool’s forwards having an off day (despite the defence playing well, especially Shaw) – so the defence playing well is lucky? Some would just call that a good defensive performance.

4)     Beating Leicester despite being a very even game. Leicester had 6 shots on target – so now not finishing any of your chances is unlucky? Some would call that poor finishing. We also had 6 on target yet were slightly more clinical and finished one of them so deserved to win.

5)     Last minute goal against Burnley to equalise (despite playing well) – we dominated that game, to only draw was unlucky (or bad finishing since we had 28 shots and 9 on target).

6)     Tottenham’s usually reliable forwards leaving their shooting boots in the dressing room – another off day for the opposition eh? Alternatively Dave does what Dave does. Let’s not forget we had 8 shots on target that match and Spurs had 11. Bad luck or bad finishing?

Then we come to last night’s game. We got a bit of luck no doubt, but did we not deserve some given our injury situation (which is arguably bad luck)? And Ole had his reasons for starting Bailly, clearly he was struggling and I suspect wasn’t even properly injured when he went off (looked like he didn’t fancy it). But Ole has made early subs in the past when things weren’t working (off the top of my head early second half subs against Huddersfield when he took Fred and Dalot off) and a number of his subs have been effective.

I agree we do not need to rush to give Ole the job and if the board had a long term manager in mind then they have to think about it carefully. But nothing is certain or guaranteed in football, so hiring him or someone else is going to be a risk regardless. But to put Ole’s tenure thus far down to luck is nonsense in my opinion. His tactics, man management, substitutions and public appearances have been generally on the money. I don’t think we could have expected any more, but he has won those matches on merit.
Garey Vance, MUFC 


Coming up to half time, I was starting to wonder if Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was some kind of wizard.  Now I am convinced.

He’s going to go full Roberto Di Matteo and win the whole thing, isn’t he?

As an aside, and I know I won’t be the only one to say that, what an awful decision to give the penalty.  Mind you, I won’t be complaining if Liverpool get the benefit of a similarly bad call in Munich next week…
Neal Boland, LFC, Dublin


One of the things about the Ole revolution is that while he is doing a brilliant job, Manchester United is the only club at which he would be able to deliver such a turnaround. If he had gone to any other club, his impact would have been more like Cardiff. It is his depth of knowledge of United that has made such a difference. His ability to talk tot he players about what it means to be in that Club, with that heritage, and to be believed because of his playing career, mainly as a sub, showing that he didn’t care about not being on the team sheet, he was just happy to be in the squad and to get 20 minutes to rescue a game when required. And then there’s that goal. Yes, That one.
In essence, he is still like us. Fans. The ones who dreamt of playing for United when we were kids but were nowhere near good enough. That is what we would feel like. It would be heaven. And it is what players forget when they get caught up with money and fame. He has reminded them of why they love the game. The smiles on the faces of the players said it all.
So Ole is the right man, the right manager, and we may just have found a real long term replacement for Sir Alex at last.


I think it’s obvious that Solskjaer will get the job, but I can see the reasoning as to why it’s not being announced until the end of the season.

The players clearly want him to get the job, however as we’ve seen with in relegation battles and a new manager coming in, there is a “bounce” which is usually because the old regime was so turgid/depressing that players naturally get a spring in their step.

For Utd, who are not in a relegation battle of course but certainly were grossly underperforming, ridding themselves of the turgid, depressing atmosphere of Jose and bringing in a club legend who clearly is an incredible man manager, let alone tactician, they are running through walls for him. Ole getting the job full time is essentially the “carrot on the stick” for the players. Keep playing as you are, keep performing, keep winning, and we’ll give him the job.

Obviously this can only run to a point (i.e. the end of the season), but he was appointed “until the end of the season” so this is within the constraints applied by the club. I cannot envisage a point now where we’re at the business end of the season where Solskjaer hasn’t been told that his remarkable performance hasn’t been rewarded by what is literally his dream job (allegedly he had a clause in his Molde contract to allow him to leave if Utd came in for him), so it’s merely a tool to keep the players “playing for Ole to get the job”.

Long may it continue! (until they confirm he has the job full time, which we all will be absolutely delighted by.)
Andy Wilson


Dear Neymar, Dani Alves + PSG,

I know right now you’re hurting and that the pain of this defeat will echo on, long after you’ve won Ligue Un by like 40 points, but know this:

With your shithousery, your sense of arrogant entitlement, your play acting and your bad sportsmanship you’ve managed to achieve something truly miraculous: uniting the entire country behind a Manchester United team.

From Liverpool to Leeds, even the most hardened ABU was cheering on Rashford last night and that’s entirely thanks to you! So chin up.

Hope that helps.
Dan, London. 


Interested to read people’s views on the interpretation of handball and how that may change in the coming months/years.

I thought it would be interesting to reflect on as similar rule in Hockey, the non ice variety. If the ball hits a players foot in the D (equivalent to penalty area) then it is a penalty corner (a very good goalscoring opportunity) – and as such, as soon as attackers get near the D they always just trying to land the ball on a players foot rather than going for goal itself.

This drove me nuts when I used to play as it was very difficult to move your feet out of the way of a fast moving ball, it was never an intentional ‘football’ – and it changed the way attackers played and changed the focus away from scoring open play goals. This rule has plagued hockey for years and there have been some whackey solutions, such as penalty corner goals counting as half, and I’m not sure if it has been sorted yet!

It is starting to look like football may be about to shoot itself in the foot in rather similar fashion (ha ha).
Nat (Neymar’s face was perfection!) Southampton


So having experienced 2 exhilarating blasts of schadenfreude in 2 days I’m genuinely interested to know which episode fans of all clubs enjoyed more.

A) Sergio Ramos’s deliberate yellow card at the end of Real Madrid’s 2-1 win at Ajax in the first leg, followed by his decision to invite a camera crew into his box to capture behind-the-scenes footage of the second leg in Madrid for an upcoming documentary.

B) Neymar’s “There is no penalty. How can it be a handball when it hits his back! Go f**k yourselves!” meltdown on Instagram.

F365 please organise a poll.
Martin (It’s got to be Ole) Levi, Ramat Gan


VAR – a word on the penalty
In a slightly bizarre way, I feel the penalty awarded to United yesterday has finally given the clarity on handball that we’ve all been looking for.  When I first saw the replay my instinct was, that cannot be a penalty (he’s 3 yards away, he’s not even looking at the ball etc etc).  But the explanations from both McManaman (who said he’d attended a briefing pre-match) and Peter Walton were clear to me – if a player makes himself bigger and the ball strikes the player on his arm/hand then it’s a penalty.  That is clearly the instructions the referees have been given, so any bone of contention should be not with the officials but with the law makers (or FIFA or UEFA or whoever tells the refs how to interpret the laws).

Surely the next logical step is now to actually write this into the laws.  No ambiguity and then we don’t have to sit through endless debates in the studio (or any other form of media) about a refereeing decision when there was 90 minutes of (in this case very exciting!) actual football to talk about!  Clarity and consistency is basically what the majority of players, fans, managers etc want – please, law makers, give it to us!
Rob, London


It’s bloody brilliant. Defenders have been getting away with the dark alerts since time began and hopefully those days are nearing an end.

The Roma VAR decision was obviously more clear cut. People will say the Porto player wasn’t going to reach the ball but why on earth is a defender who has been playing under VAR week in week out grabbing a shirt in the box? Or anywhere for that matter? Complete brain failure.

And then the PSG one, this isn’t bloody ice skating, I don’t want to see a triple axel with a perfect landing. Jump. Up. I’m sure you’ll recover if the ball hits your face.

The end result of getting defenders to actually play within the rules should be more goals. Next on the hit list, sin bin (or straight red if you can’t stomach sin bins) for fouls deliberately halting attacking play, such as a counter attack.
Alan, EFC


Afternoon Ed

First of all well done to Man Utd. It is nigh on impossible not to like OGS (especially as a Spurs fan) and impossible to like PSG.

With respect to VAR, i can’t for the life of me work out how it is that the ‘handball’ by a bloke with his back to the shot is referred to the TV refs but Son getting pushed in the back when he was clean through and shaping to shoot against Dortmund isn’t. I’m not sure either of them are nailed on pens but in the VAR world surely both need looking at. My point is there still seems to be some fairly opaque discretion being used about it & that being the case how is it any better than before?


A perfect example of the problem with VAR
First up, let me say that as a United fan, that ranks up there easily in my top 5 moments supporting the club (along with 99, 08, and my favourite; Macheda vs. Villa).

That out of the way however, and looking at the penalty decision purely objectively, it encapsulates the precise problem with VAR which I think most people understand intuitively, but struggle to articulate.

Basically the issue is that VAR gets decisions *too right*.

Appreciate this sounds bizarre on the face of it, but let me explain.

In a game without VAR, referees will actually allow a huge amount of subjectivity into their decision making.  For example an identical challenge committed in one game with a heated atmosphere, and in another game that is gentle, will often be met with a yellow card in the former, and no yellow card in the latter.

Quite often of course, fans / pundits moan about this lack of consistency – however generally they prefer it to a lack of “common sense”.  Common sense refereeing and consistent refereeing are diametrically opposed, because the former style takes context into account when making decisions, versus the latter which ignores context.

When you take a situation like the penalty last night, without VAR that would never have been given in a million years because it didn’t “feel” like a penalty.  A penalty, when the whole situation is considered, seems like too harsh a punishment for such an infringement, particularly when the shot is going wide.  However what VAR forces refs to do is to take calls without that subjectivity, and since *by the letter of the law* it was a penally, the penalty is given, and thus players and fans alike howl about injustice.  They are right of course, because the laws of the game and justice are not 100% synonymous.  Justice is partially determined by context.

Ultimately what VAR forgets is that the laws of the game are simply there to provide a structure to support a fair, competitive game.  The offside rule is there to stop people goal hanging; not to catch someone who is innocently a quarter of an inch beyond the last defender.  Two yellows making a red is there to stop persistent fouling or over-aggressive play; not to cripple a team for two slightly late / clumsy challenges that happen to have been committed by the same player.  The handball rule is there to stop players taking advantage with their hands; not to get a team dumped out of the CL for something as innocuous as what happened in Paris.  Unfortunately however it’s impossible to write context into the rules without admitting to what they truly are – guidelines for creating a fair game, rather than rigid “rules”.

Referees, without VAR, totally get this – and thus although their decisions are “less correct” on a binary level, they are arguably “more correct” on a common sense / spirit of the game level.

We will never be able to write rules that are perfect in the absence of context, and thus so long as we promote a system (VAR) that removes context from decision making, we will actually be moving further away from the purpose of the rules, rather than closer to it.

All that said… OLE’S AT THE WHEEL.


End tribalism
I was somewhat expecting the mailbox to be full of (especially Liverpool) fans complaining about the penalty and was very surprised that it was mostly full of kind, magnanimous words, especially from City and Liverpool fans. It makes a welcome, refreshing change from the usual tribalism. Maybe it’s simply down to it being very easy to dislike the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar PSG but long may it continue!

I still don’t think I could bring myself to want Liverpool to win but hopefully I’ll be able to give them the credit they deserve where it’s due.
Daniel (bring on Arsenal this weekend) Cambridge


Penalty area
Dear Mailbox,

I agree with Peter G’s comments that the penalty should have been given last night, at least in the current setup. I’m also happy with the rule change for next season that handball doesn’t have to be deliberate, as that’s the referee basically guessing what was in the defenders head. However I’m not happy with penalties being given for things like that right on the edge of the box. A penalty is given because you’re in an area which is close to the goal, so any piece of foul play is denying a decent chance at scoring.

What I’m getting at is I think the penalty area right now is too big. I think a much fairer shape would be a semi-circle or maybe even straight lines coming from the edge of the d which clip the corner of the 6-yard box. It doesn’t take that much skill to get to the very corner or edge of the box as it’s so big, so I think the reward at the moment for a foul is too great. However if you put all the time/effort/skill in to get a bit closer to the goal, I think it’s much more justified. Have a look at this picture which by the looks of it is a joint football and hockey pitch. The hockey penalty area looks much fairer to me even accounting for the smaller goals.

We could argue about what the best exact shape would be for it, but does anyone else agree with the idea?

Andy, Cheshire. (another city fan feeling dirty about cheering the penalty last night)


Luke Shaw and Fred
I’m sure you will get several mails praising some players and Ole, but I just want to point out that Luke Shaw and Fred performances yesterday were fantastic. PSG were not getting much headway via Luke’s side of the pitch, while Fred put in a “boss” performance in the midfield, he was tackling, running, intercepting, driving forward, and making forward passes.Great performance overall from the team though.
Oluwaseun Adelugba, Nigeria. Man U (Relaxed Now)


I’m really confused
I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I’m a bit confused at the moment. I hate United, really do. To my core. Especially when they were managed by Jose. But reading the random outpouring of jubilant joy from united fans in the mailbox brings a smile to my face (remembering our similar moments over the last couple of years… the Dortmund game especially). And when combined with the actual genuine likeability of Solskjaer. It makes me… almost not-hate united. Man, I am so confused.

And if they were to actually beat City in the league next month! Ahhhh, further confusion!
Ted, LFC


French Jonjo Shelvey
I would hope it would be impossible for any human to think that Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Pogba are equal players. But the recent mailbox has shown otherwise.

Pogba scores a lot more goals, contributes a lot more assists, and contributes a lot more defensively (even if Pogba is remarkably poor at defending corners and set pieces for someone with his size and athleticism). He’s also won a world cup as a key player, won 5 Serie A titles, and has been in the top 20 for world player of the year 3 times.

Does anyone really think Shelvey would’ve been an integral part of that French team or Juventus? Does anyone think Shelvey would be starting for any team in the top 6 consistently? He doesn’t even start for Newcastle consistently. Conversely, Pogba would walk into the England team and walk into the Newcastle team.

Hype is one thing, but there is no way the accolades and general impressions of both of these players are entirely down to Pogba being French and having more hype.
Nathan, Newark


Most fans don’t understand transfer fees
Another cracking mailbox this morning. A couple of points if I may.

Marc, Bolton. I shall let others deal with your analysis of Pogba and concentrate on your final line “Bernardo Silva costs you £46m less”. You do realise transfer values aren’t solely linked to the players ability? Buying/Selling club, length of contract, importance to either club etc. In addition Commercial aspects (like it or not) play a large part in the initial cost. Pogba is in a different league to Bernardo Silva when it come to short selling, sponsorship attraction, social media attention and more. I’d hazard a guess that Pogba will want united far in excess of the additional £46m and thus make him a cheaper footballer (on ability alone) than Bernardo Silva! It’s about time fans moved on from transfer fees, it’s clear most don’t understand them.

Martin Ansel. One positive result from VAR removes your ability to complain about it? Excellent news, I look forward to zero VAR discussions in about 6 months time
Matt (nothing to add here), Northampton


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