Improvement under Ole is clear to see

Friday 01 January 2021 11:41

Every Manchester United fan wants to see the team play attacking, entertaining and successful football, and that is clearly the case under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

There is real marked improvement under the manager as the long-term project continues on an upward trajectory, with the club looking to win trophies in a style mirroring the United way.

Nothing is more enjoyable than seeing the Reds hit the back of the net and that has happened with increased regularity this term, with Marcus Rashford's late winner against Wolves, very much in the club's best traditions, rounding things off nicely for 2020. 

It was the 65th Premier League goal of the calendar year for Ole's men and we are looking more potent going forward than in any time since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure.

The stats show that the Reds have stepped up a gear this season, when compared to last term. Ole's Reds may have performed strongly enough after lockdown to power up the table in time to clinch third spot with the final-day win at Leicester City but there has been more progress in 2020/21.

Various records have been broken and only Leicester's late equaliser on Boxing Day halted an unprecedented run of 10 successive away league victories. Since our first game of Project Restart, the 1-1 draw at Tottenham, United have scored at least twice in all of our Premier League games on the road.

Remarkably, if you include all competitions since the Spurs clash (the Europa League latter stages were played at a neutral venue), the only away game that the team has not scored at least twice in was the costly 2-1 defeat to Istanbul Basaksehir in the Champions League. Pretty impressive if you consider we were placed in a group with two of last season's best four sides in the competition - Paris Saint-Germain and Red Bull Leipzig - even if we did narrowly miss out on qualification.

Bruno Fernandes's arrival has helped provide the extra spark required as United have played with panache and showed a greater ability to break down even the most stubborn of defences. Our last outing against Wolves provided further evidence of this as it was the Portuguese midfield maestro who released Rashford, who then did it all himself by working an opening that led to the shot deflecting past Rui Patricio off Romain Saiss.

It may feel as though United, in some sections of the media, are only ever one defeat away from a crisis - simply witness the reaction to the justified disappointment of the European exit - but the overall picture certainly looks bright.

By simply comparing the Reds' form since February, when Bruno made his debut, to champions Liverpool and the other top clubs in the Premier League, it appears this story is not exactly the one leading the agenda when criticism is being aimed at the club.

After 15 games this season, United are in second place in the table, with 30 points, a 60 per cent win-percentage and 31 goals scored. Last term, at the same stage, we were sixth with 21 points and a win-percentage of only 33.33%, having netted 23 times.

So the progress appears irrefutable. Some will point out United still have to face a number of top sides away from Old Trafford in the remainder of the season, even if, as the manager argues, the current need for behind-closed-doors fixtures has had a major impact on home advantage anyway. It could also be contested that we do have a brilliant record on the road, in any case.

Finally, a strong Aston Villa side visit the Theatre of Dreams tonight in excellent form and looking to upset the Reds' momentum. It will be a tough challenge, as was the win over Wolves and nothing less should be expected. 

Nobody will want to hear any excuses of fatigue as the Reds take on a Villa side with 24 hours' extra rest, in a scenario that was admittedly reversed for the Wolves fixture, which Ole graciously acknowledged afterwards.

However, it is perhaps worth pointing out The Independent's story on the average number of rest days between matches between 19 and 30 December for the top-flight clubs. United, Manchester City and Everton had the least time (two days) and the late postponement of the clash at Goodison Park between the other two clubs means the Reds now stand alone in this respect. At the other end of the newspaper's table, were Fulham and Liverpool (with 4.5 days) and, of course, the Cottagers have also had a game called off (against Spurs).

Ole and the coaching staff will be carefully managing this fixture schedule though, and it is partly self-inflicted by progressing in the Carabao Cup, which contributed to the aforementioned figures. We now also have a semi-final date with Manchester City next week and the Burnley game, postponed at the start of the campaign, has been added to our busy January programme.

Yet you suspect the boss would have it no other way. The club demands we fight for trophies and everybody associated with United hopes that is how 2021 pans out. Whatever happens, as we look forward to watching the Reds in 2021, the signs of progress are surely a reason to be optimistic.

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.