As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer departs Manchester United following a dismal run of form in recent months, it’s a good time to reflect on the Norwegian’s first game in charge back in December 2018 as his new side ran out 5-1 winners over his former club, Cardiff City.
The Champions League-winning hero arrived back at Old Trafford on an initial interim basis following the sacking of Jose Mourinho and would go on to lift the doom and gloom surrounding the club right from the off with a convincing win over the Bluebirds.
Marcus Rashford ensured a perfect start under the new boss after firing in a free-kick inside three minutes, before goals from Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial gave the visitors a 3-1 lead at the break, following an earlier penalty for Neil Warnock’s side.
A free-flowing and rejuvenated side put the game to bed in the second-half with Jesse Lingard bagging a brace as Manchester United hit five for the first time in over five years, to kickstart what would be a remarkable first few months in the hot seat for the then temporary coach.
Here’s a look then at United’s starting XI on that day just over three years ago.
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Largely a bystander in this match, David De Gea is currently one of the club’s longest-serving players – alongside Phil Jones – having largely been the undisputed number one since his arrival from Atletico Madrid just over a decade ago.
The scrawny-looking young Spaniard initially looked unconvincing in a United shirt, yet swiftly emerged as the club’s most important player, although with much of his best form having come amid a turbulent time for the Red Devils, the stopper seeming to thrive when his side are underperforming.
That has been the case this season with the 31-year-old arguably the club’s player of the year after a difficult last few seasons on a personal note, having wrestled his starting berth back from Dean Henderson over the summer.
Right-back: Ashley Young
The current Aston Villa man began his United career as a flying winger, yet effectively transitioned into a valuable asset at full-back under Louis Van Gaal and then Jose Mourinho, slotting in on either flank to good effect.
After initially featuring heavily under Solskjaer and being appointed club captain in August 2019, he opted to make the switch to Serie A giants Inter Milan in January 2020, having made 261 appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils in his eight-and-a-half-year spell.
The 36-year-old featured heavily as Antonio Conte’s side won the title last season, before he made his return to Villa Park in the summer.
Centre-back: Victor Lindelof
The Swede has endured a mixed United career in truth, failing to earn regular game time under Mourinho after joining from Benfica in 2017, while coming under fire for his performances despite being a first-team regular for much of Solskjaer’s spell in charge.
The 27-year-old has frequently shown his quality on the ball, yet has struggled at times with the physicality of the Premier League, while his partnership with Harry Maguire continues to be routinely scrutinised owing to the club’s recent dismal defensive record.
Centre-back: Phil Jones
Phil Jones was one of four changes that the new boss made on the day, as the Norwegian looked to try and shore up a defence that had already conceded 29 goals in the early months of that season.
The Englishman has endured a torrid time of it with injuries in recent years, with his last competitive outing having come way back in January 2020 in a 6-0 FA Cup win over Tranmere – a game in which scored.
Even prior to that, however, the long-serving 29-year-old – who signed from Blackburn Rovers in 2011 – had largely been overlooked by a succession of managers after failing to build on his early potential, with many stunned to see the defender handed a new four-year deal by the club in February 2019.
Left-back: Luke Shaw
Another change on the day, Luke Shaw made a fine re-introduction to the side, with it having been a clear attacking ploy by Solskjaer to push both his full-back’s further up the pitch, after largely being shackled under his predecessor Mourinho.
The Portuguese had publicly criticised the England international on numerous occasions, with the left-back seemingly devoid of confidence prior to Solskjaer’s arrival, after also previously suffering a double-leg fracture under Van Gaal back in 2015.
One of the major success stories of the Norwegian’s reign had been the transformation of Shaw into one of the club’s top performers, although the 26-year-old is one of many to have distinctly underperformed so far this season.
Midfield: Ander Herrera
The scorer of United’s second goal with a somewhat fortunate, deflected effort, Ander Herrera was a hugely popular figure during his five-year spell at Old Trafford, offering a tireless presence in midfield and a clear passion for the club.
The Spaniard – who had signed from Athletic Bilbao in 2014 – thrived under Mourinho, in particular, and remained a key player in the first few months of Solskjaer’s tenure, although opted to leave for Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the 2018/19 season after a turning down a new deal in Manchester.
The 32-year-old endured a tough start to life in Paris, although is now thriving under Mauricio Pochettino and has scored three league goals already this season.
True gentleman, i feel lucky to have been coached by you. https://t.co/fuR1yHNGzx
— Ander Herrera (@AnderHerrera) November 21, 2021
Midfield: Nemanja Matic
Offering the defensive protection at the base of the midfield was Nemanja Matic, the Serbian having joined the club from Chelsea 2017, after winning two league titles at Stamford Bridge.
Matic had been a key component for Mourinho’s Chelsea side, and it was hoped that a reunion at Old Trafford could propel United back towards the title, though his lack of pace has at times left him exposed in the centre of the park.
That being said, under both Mourinho and Solskjaer the imposing midfielder has remained a crucial asset to the squad and still has the knack of driving the ball forward from midfield, with the club perhaps wishing the 33-year-old had the legs to be a more regular presence, amid their current midfield woes.
Midfield: Paul Pogba
In what has been a turbulent and frustrating United career for Paul Pogba, arguably his best spell came following the appointment of Solskjaer, the Frenchman looking reborn after enduring a toxic relationship with former boss Mourinho.
His two assists and man of the match display in the 5-1 thrashing sparked what would be a stellar run of form on a personal note, as the former Juventus man ended the season with 16 goals and 11 assists in all competitions – by far his best return in a United shirt.
While he has seven Premier League assists already this season, the polarising midfielder continues to pose a selection issue and has long struggled for consistency, while his expiring contract remains a constant source of transfer gossip.
Forward: Jesse Lingard
One man who looks likely to follow Pogba out the door either in January or in the summer is Jesse Lingard, the England international also into the final year of his deal and with regular game time hard to come by so far this season.
After thriving on-loan at West Ham last season, the 28-year-old has been restricted to just a few brief cameo appearances on his return to Old Trafford, having previously looked surplus to requirements prior to his time at the London Stadium.
His brace in Solskjaer’s opener ensured a perfect start under the new boss, although he would go on to fail to register a single goal or assist in the league in 2019, before the arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January 2020 shunted the academy graduate further down the pecking order.
Forward: Marcus Rashford
While Donny Van de Beek netted the last goal of the Solskjaer reign, the first came from Marcus Rashford, the England international firing in a free-kick inside three minutes to set United on their way, albeit while giving away a penalty at the other end for handball later in the half.
After being restricted to the bench under Mourinho at times, the forward – who had burst onto the scene in 2016 – emerged as a key player under the Norwegian, memorably netting a stoppage-time penalty on that night in Paris to clinch victory.
Such a vital role under Solskjaer has almost been to Rashford’s detriment, the 24-year-old frequently playing through the pain barrier, particularly last season, when he perhaps would have been better served resting.
Forward: Anthony Martial
The Frenchman netted on what was his 100th Premier League appearance, cooly slotting home after some delightful build-up play involving the forward as well as both Lingard and Pogba, as United’s attacking players ran riot in Cardiff.
Martial’s Red Devils career has been littered with such moments of quality, notably his debut strike against Liverpool back in 2015, yet his frustrating inconsistency continues to pose a problem, with the 25-year-old having fallen way down the pecking order this season.
Solskjaer had originally put a lot of faith in the former Monaco man as his first-choice striker, although after netting 17 Premier League goals in the 2019/20 campaign, he followed that up with a meagre tally of just four league goals last term.
— Devils Latest (@Devils_Latest) January 4, 2019
Replacing Rashford in the 79th minute was former Shakhtar Donetsk man Fred, the Brazilian going on to become one of Solskjaer’s trusted lieutenants, despite not always warranting the continued faith of his manager.
There have been some notable impressive displays from the Brazilian, namely in that win in Paris, although such performances have been few and far between, with his tireless work rate unable to cover up his lack of quality on the ball.
One of the first casualties of the Solskjaer era was Marouane Fellaini, the versatile Belgian departing for Chinese side Shandong Luneng just a month later, after previously proving an effective presence under both Van Gaal and Mourinho.
The only signing of David Moyes’ first summer in charge in 2013, the former Everton man never really seemed the right fit, yet to his credit managed to forge a career for himself at the club, netting 22 goals in 177 games for the club in all competitions.
With Fellaini replacing Matic, Andreas Pereira entered the fray in place of Martial for the final few minutes, the Brazilian going on to be handed a chance by Solskjaer over the next 18 months or so, after hardly getting a look-in under Mourinho.
In truth, however, the midfielder failed to really take his chance and is currently now out on the fourth loan stint of his United career, the 25-year-old having joined Flamengo over the summer.
Read Also – Premier League Team of the Week – Gameweek 12