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Manchester derby result and Shaw reinvention a triumph for Solskjaer as Man Utd bridge City gap for 90 minutes

James Robson
·3-min read
<p>Luke Shaw was a star performer at the Etihad</p> (Getty Images)

Luke Shaw was a star performer at the Etihad

(Getty Images)

Who knows if Manchester United will ever win the Premier League title under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - but the positives of his reign continue to heavily outweigh the negatives.

A 2-0 win at the home of champions-elect Manchester City is the latest addition to his personal showreel since taking over at Old Trafford.

And the performances of Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, in particularly, underline the impressive work Solskjaer has done with little fanfare.

Imagine if Pep Guardiola had overseen this kind of transformation in Shaw.

It was fitting that the full-back left Joao Cancelo in his wake when breaking away to score United’s second goal, which effectively consigned City to a first defeat in 29 games.

Fernandes and Shaw scored the vital goalsPOOL/AFP via Getty Images
Fernandes and Shaw scored the vital goalsPOOL/AFP via Getty Images

Guardiola’s work with the Portuguese has been celebrated as another example of his ability to reimagine the game.

Yet on this occasion it was all Cancelo could do to try to stem the influence of Shaw, whose lung-busting runs were not confined to his goal. He consistently exposed City on the break and looks a world away from the player who has faced so many questions over his fitness and form since United made him the most expensive teenager in the world in 2014.

His reinvention is a triumph for patience in a sport that has little time for the long-term - and the value of the personal touch and investment in the individual.

Solskjaer has done all three with Shaw - and United and England are reaping the rewards.

It is unlikely the Norwegian has offered advice on finishing as well – with Shaw’s low shot into the far corner of Ederson’s net reminiscent of his manager – but his goal was an effect of the confidence coursing through his veins as a result of the best run of form of his career.

Then there is Martial, who is still such a source of frustration to those who desperately want to see him realise his full potential.

Martial was in fine form at CityPOOL/AFP via Getty Images
Martial was in fine form at CityPOOL/AFP via Getty Images

Solskjaer continues to persist with the France forward, and has got more of a tune out of him than any of his previous managers at United.

His talent is undeniable and Solskjaer can see that. He trusted him to lead the line on a day like this and to bully a defence that had been so supreme during City’s run of 21 straight wins.

His run into the box that panicked Gabriel Jesus to bring him within 34 seconds of the kick-off set up this victory. But it was his work beyond that pivotal moment that was so key to United’s plan.

He possesses the technique to take the ball with his back to goal, hold off defenders and turn and run. And he has the attitude to thrive on occasions like this.

It would be easy to wash your hands of him when he cuts a sullen, sulky figure – but Solskjaer’s persistence continues to pay off.

Solskjaer insists United are a better team than they were 16-17 months ago, and few could argue.

A big result for SolskjaerPOOL/AFP via Getty Images
A big result for SolskjaerPOOL/AFP via Getty Images

In so many ways he has been a triumphant appointment; a calming influence to end the turbulence of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson years; a full-stop to the hap-hazard spending and hire-and-fire culture that had set in under Ed Woodward.

He was the right man at a critical time in the club’s history – but the fact that a victory that will be rightly savoured by the red half of Manchester is ultimately meaningless in terms of the title race, underlines the gap that still remains to the top.

He may well oversee United’s joint highest finish since Ferguson’s retirement – equalling Jose Mourinho’s second place in 2018 – but are they any closer to being crowned champions of England?

That is the question that remains and the gauge by which Solskjaer will ultimately be judged.

But regardless of whether he is the man to lead them back to the very summit of English football, he will leave them in a much better state than when he found them.

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