“At Manchester United we go into every game thinking we can win it.” As mission statements go, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s, issued after beating a Fulham side showing every sign of seasonal capitulation, could not be more pointed.
Eleven games into his temporary control, and United’s caretaker manager is clear in his ambition: to reconnect the club to its former ways. Because, going into every game thinking they can win it has not been the most conspicuous of aims since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. Under David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, caution, restraint and realism have been the abiding watchwords.
Certainly when the draw was made for the Champions League last 16 in December, and they were pitched against Paris St-Germain, there were not many who thought that United could win it. The manner in which they had scrabbled through qualification, losing limply at Valencia in the final group game, made the idea a forlorn one.
Even Solskjaer admits at the time, when he was watching the draw from his home in Norway, it seemed a daunting prospect. “I thought, ‘Wow what a challenge’,” he said. “Then two or three days later suddenly it’s my challenge and I can tell you I’ve got goosebumps.”
Since then, everything has changed. Under Solskjaer’s smiling leadership, winning eight of his nine league games in charge, more than they had managed in the previous 17, United have gone from cowed to confident, from lacklustre to liberated. No one more than Paul Pogba, whose two goals here underlined a sublime contribution.