Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during the Manchester derby.

Opinion: Ole's bravery deserves respect

When the pressure was on ahead of Manchester United's last two games, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer delivered, showing the type of bravery his ex-boss Sir Alex Ferguson always wanted in his players.

Tottenham arriving in town on the back of three wins since Jose Mourinho took charge, and a short trip to Manchester City, to face a team that looked back to its best in the midweek thumping of Burnley, seemed a tough agenda at the best of times.

Coming after a disappointing home draw with Aston Villa, there must have been a temptation for the manager to adopt a cautious approach.

Anthony Martial's injury would have steered most coaches in the direction of adding another defender to the side, providing more solidity against a Spurs line-up boasting some of the most dangerous attackers in the Premier League.

Indeed, some of the pre-match speculation around the XI, which has become a regular feature nowadays, suggested United would select three central defenders. 

Such gossip envelopes the vast majority of matches, on the back of photographers waiting to snap the Reds squad either entering the hotel or travelling, and, being honest, I'm not sure this level of scrutiny does the Reds any favours, particularly as I do not believe all the other clubs have their squads leaked in advance of fixtures.

Nonetheless, no matter what Spurs may or may not have been expecting, Ole sprung a surprise in choosing 18-year-old Mason Greenwood as a like-for-like replacement for Martial.

It was a bold move in a match of such magnitude but provided the perfect illustration of the manager's faith in youth in general, but also in a homegrown talent who is learning on the job, while still scoring goals. Only a good save by Paulo Gazzaniga prevented Greenwood from hitting the net in the 2-1 victory, and he vindicated a big decision by his boss.

Of all the options to replace Martial in the XI, that was arguably the riskiest. But also, probably, the most in the keeping with Manchester United's best traditions.

Pep Guardiola and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Ole came out on top when going head-to-head with Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.

With three points in the bag, perhaps there would be an appreciation that a draw would complete a great week's work in the away game at the Etihad Stadium.

A derby against the reigning champions, while still missing some key players including Paul Pogba, was always going to be another real examination of the Reds' ability.

The attacking wizardry of Pep Guardiola's team can tear anybody to shreds and most rivals go there in trepidation, often stocking up on defensive starters. Again, there must have been a thought of switching to five at the back but Ole resisted.

There was another surprise when the United line-up was announced - Martial was back rather than on the bench and the message was clear: We are here to try to win this.

Victor Lindelof, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Anthony Martial.
Ole embraces Victor Lindelof and Anthony Martial after the derby.

As a United supporter, this is what gives real hope that we are going to get back on track. It might sound untrue but, irrespective of the victories achieved in these matches, which always lift the mood immeasurably, there is a bigger picture to consider here.

It is acknowledged Ole is overseeing a reboot and rebuild that will inevitably take time. Patience is in short supply in modern football, and that becomes clearer and clearer by the top-flight season, but when there are signs that things are moving in the right direction, it is vitally important to take a considered approach.

I appreciate, even under Sir Alex Ferguson, there would be tactical tweaks for certain games and I remember being disappointed the Reds seemed too passive in losing at the same venue as our latest success, at the Etihad Stadium, in 2012. It was a key fixture in the title run-in, won by the Blues in stoppage time on the final day against QPR, and I've always wondered what might have happened if we had attempted to fight fire with fire instead. 

Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill.
Sir Alex Ferguson was at the Etihad Stadium to witness another great derby win.

I'm not naive enough to appreciate there are times when you have to be more defensive. 

Yet I feel it is important in this team's development to be brave and embody the spirit of the club, particularly in Sir Alex's time, when we would usually let the opposition worry about us.

It might mean too many risks are taken and we do not always get the points we deserve. But the long-term benefits should outweigh this. Manchester United are all about playing our way, looking to win matches and not worrying about damage limitation or being subservient.

Seeing Ole's last two team selections have given me an enormous boost. The results have too, of course, and I'm in that position again where I cannot wait for the next kick-off to come around.

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.

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