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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactical acumen overcomes Mauricio Pochettino

Stewart Robson shares his thoughts on how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactics and vital saves from David de Gea helped them overcome Tottenham 1-0 at Wembley.
Craig Burley goes to the tape and demonstrates how the pace of Manchester United’s front three played a key role in their win at Tottenham.
David De Gea’s 11 saves helped Ole Gunnar Solskjaer become the first Man United manager to win his first six matches with a huge win at Tottenham.
David De Gea’s 11 saves helped Ole Gunnar Solskjaer become the first Man United manager to win his first six matches with a huge win at Tottenham.
David De Gea’s 11 saves helped Ole Gunnar Solskjaer become the first Man United manager to win his first six matches with a huge win at Tottenham.
ESPN FC’s Craig Burley breaks down the key factors that guided Manchester United to a statement victory over top-four rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

LONDON — With 95 minutes on the clock and Manchester United leading 1-0, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stood on the edge of his technical area and urged substitute Diogo Dalot to move away from the touchline on the far side to congest space in midfield and restrict Tottenham options through the centre of the pitch.

Seconds later, Mike Dean’s final whistle ensured that Solskjaer passed his first big test as United caretaker manager in emphatic fashion, with that small instruction serving as a microcosm of his day. By barking instructions to Dalot, he showed he would not allow his players to switch off and forget the game plan until the last ball had been kicked.

There were many reasons for United’s win at Wembley — the renewed confidence of those in red was a key one — but this was a game in which Solskjaer showed that he can take on a highly rated opponent and win the tactical battle.

Until now, momentum and the feel-good factor had propelled United to victories against five teams who, with all due respect, they should expect to beat on every occasion. But a visit to Spurs was a different matter, especially because their coach, Mauricio Pochettino, is the man most wanted by the United hierarchy to become Jose Mourinho’s permanent replacement.

It would be naïve to think that will change on the back of this result, but if Solskjaer is to have a genuine chance of landing the job for himself, he has to prove himself against the best, so this result placed a very big tick in that box.

Yes, there will be bigger and tougher challenges to come. Next month’s Champions League round-of-16 clash against Paris Saint-Germain will be a significant marking post, as will Old Trafford encounters with Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea between now and the end of the season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not put a foot wrong as Manchester United manager.

But after his United team brushed aside Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Newcastle and Reading, Solskjaer had to make a statement versus a big-six rival, and he did that by outfoxing Pochettino with a plan that set out to deny Spurs time and space to attack through the middle.

Jesse Lingard had a key role, delayed to stop Harry Winks receiving the ball from the home team’s defenders and form part of a three-man forward line, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, that offered blistering pace and nonstop movement on the counterattack.

The trio had threatened before Rashford’s 44th-minute goal, which saw the England forward race onto a majestic Paul Pogba pass before firing a clinical strike past Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris into the far corner.

Pogba’s ball encapsulated the change in mood and performance at United since Solskjaer replaced the sacked Mourinho last month. It was the pass of a player at the top of his game, who has the confidence to take the risky option rather than play it safe.

Had Mourinho still been in charge, Pogba might not even have started this game — the fixture last season saw him replaced after 63 minutes of a 2-0 defeat — but the French World Cup-winning midfielder admitted afterward that the change of manager has been transformative.

“I am enjoying playing my football now,” Pogba said. “I like to be more attacking, I had to defend too much before, and that is not my best attribute. This is my position. The manager tells me to get into the box and score goals. The best example is Frank Lampard.”

“I was benched, and a football player on the bench; I’m not sure if he can accept that,” Pogba added later. “Now I’m taking pleasure again, I play again, I’m doing what I love, so it’s normal. And we’re winning, so indeed we play with a smile always.”

Solskjaer has not revived Pogba merely with an arm around his shoulder. Rather, by placing Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera alongside in midfield, the former Juventus player has freedom to break forward and cause havoc, as he did in the second half. Indeed, for all of David De Gea‘s 11 saves, Pogba’s influence at the other end earned United victory, and he was only denied two goals by saves from his France teammate Lloris.

So while Solskjaer’s tactical plan was the foundation for victory, which moves United to within six points of fourth-placed Chelsea, the 45-year-old’s personality has been just as important in turning the team around. Players were down and less motivated under Mourinho, but De Gea made it clear that the gloom has lifted.

“The manager brought some happiness,” De Gea said. “The players are playing well and the team is very strong now. This is the real Manchester United.” Other players have rediscovered their form under the new manager, with Matic once again impressing in midfield after enduring a dismal past 12 months and Victor Lindelof a mainstay at centre-half.

Tellingly, Solskjaer spoke in his postmatch news conference about his team’s spirit before, knowingly or otherwise, name-checking every one of his starting eleven inside the space of three minutes.

Each of his back four was praised, with De Gea described as the “best in the world” and “now challenging Edwin (van der Sar) and Peter (Schmeichel) for the number one spot” in the pantheon of United’s greatest goalkeepers. Matic and Ander Herrera were “fantastic,” while Solskjaer spoke of the “blistering pace” of Rashford, Martial and Lingard, before talking up Pogba’s qualities.

That is the simple side of the game — making players feel happy and full of belief — but by beating Spurs, Solskjaer showed he can also do the hard part of delivering tactically. If this continues, he is going to become a serious contender for the top job on a permanent basis.

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All-time top scorers: Messi reaches 400 Liga goals

Lionel Messi, already the all-time record scorer in any of Europe’s top-ten leagues, reached another milestone on Sunday when he registered his 400th Spanish Liga goal. In many respects, the Barcelona forward is out on his own – but some epochal totals may well be beyond the 31-year-old, as discovers.


Spain: Lionel Messi (2004–present) – 400 goals

Having eclipsed Telmo Zarra’s Spanish top-flight record of 251 goals back in 2014, Messi has been in a league of his own ever since. His latest milestone came in a 3-0 victory against Eibar on Sunday, the Argentinian ace finishing off a fine move involving Luis Suárez and Philippe Coutinho. “His numbers are stratospheric, incredible, but it’s not just the goals – it’s everything else he does too,” said Barça coach Ernesto Valverde.

England: Jimmy Greaves (1957–71) – 357 goals

Jimmy Greaves

Jimmy Greaves©Getty Images

“When I came out onto the pitch at White Hart Lane, Wembley or wherever, I became a totally different person,” recalled England’s foremost first-division marksman. “In a way, when I passed through that tunnel, it wasn’t me any more.” At Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham, Greaves’s strike rate suggested he was indeed in the zone.

Italy: Silvio Piola (1929–54) – 274 goals

“I still don’t know whether he shoots better with his right foot or his left,” said coach Vittorio Pozzo of the forward who helped his Italy side lift the 1938 FIFA World Cup. “I did not fear anything, a crucial quality in those days,” added Piola, who found the net for Pro Vercelli, Lazio, Torino, Juventus and Novara but never landed a Serie A title.

Germany: Gerd Müller (1965–79) – 365 goals

Gerd Müller

Gerd Müller©Bob Thomas/Getty Images

The ultimate goalmouth predator, ‘Der Bomber’ set a near-impossible target for all future Bundesliga aces with his 365 goals in only 427 games. The prolificacy of the man who hit West Germany’s 1974 FIFA World Cup final winner did much to make Bayern a football powerhouse. As Franz Beckenbauer often says: “Without Gerd’s goals, perhaps we would still be working in a little wooden hut on Säbener Strasse.”

France: Delio Onnis (1971–86) – 299 goals

Born in Italy and raised in Argentina, Onnis never made an international appearance yet found the target at a fearsome rate for Reims, Monaco, Tours and Toulon. He is confident his league tally will remain a record “long into the future” but knows that in another age his attacking prowess might have earned him a move abroad. “Ten years in one league is not common nowadays,” he said.

Russia and Ukraine: Oleh Blokhin: (1972–87) – 211 goals

Oleh Blokhin

Oleh Blokhin©Getty Images

Blokhin’s Soviet-era mark casts a long shadow over all of the USSR’s successor states. The 1975 Ballon d’Or winner was the Soviet league’s leading striker in five campaigns with Dynamo Kyiv. “He is utterly consistent in pursuing his main target – scoring goals,” said his coach Valeriy Lobanovskiy. “Behind each one there is hellish toil in training, total commitment in matches and many years of spartan lifestyle.”

Portugal: Fernando Peyroteo (1937–49) – 332 goals

Aged 19, Peyroteo struck twice on his Sporting CP debut against Lisbon rivals Benfica back in 1937, and his huge Liga haul came in just 197 league games – including nine in a single fixture. He retired at 31, saying: “I am a soldier and a soldier does not run from his duties, but I feel I am an old soldier that can no longer help his club the way he should.”

Belgium: Albert De Cleyn (1932–55) – 377 goals

A one-club man, representing Malinois – now Mechelen – De Cleyn might have scored more had three Belgian seasons not been abandoned during the Second World War. Famously, he notched all seven in a 7-1 victory against Racing Club de Bruxelles that secured his team the 1943 title; the club’s official history says he was “spontaneously lifted onto team-mates’ shoulders and given a bouquet of flowers”.

Turkey: Hakan Şükür (1987–2008) – 249 goals

Hakan Şükür

Hakan Şükür©Getty Images

The ‘Bull of the Bosporus’ claimed only 11 league goals in overseas spells with Torino, Internazionale, Parma and Blackburn, but registered regularly for Sakaryaspor and Bursaspor, as well as during three stints at Galatasaray. He once said: “I’m the kind of striker who gets into a lot of good scoring positions, but also misses a lot of them, and all I can think about are the chances I’ve missed, not the goals I scored.”

European national-record league totals that Messi has yet to surpass

Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia: Josef Bican (1931–55) – 500 goals
Scotland: Jimmy McGrory (1922–38) – 410 goals
Yugoslavia/Croatia/Serbia: Stjepan Bobek (1945–58) – 403 goals

Some high scorers who played in more than one European league

Josef Bican: Austria 18, Czechoslovakia 500 (1931–55) – 518 goals
Ferenc Puskás: Spain 159, Hungary 358 (1943–66) – 517 goals
Imre Schlosser: Hungary 411, Austria 6 (1905–28) – 417 goals
Cristiano Ronaldo: Portugal 3, England 84, Spain 311, Italy 14 (2002–present) – 412 goals
Gyula Zsengellér: Hungary 387, Italy 24 (1935–53) – 411 goals
Gunnar Nordahl: Sweden 149, Italy 225 (1937–58) – 374 goals

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Mbappe and Cavani score but 7/10 Draxler the key as PSG thrash Amiens

Paris Saint-Germain returned to Ligue 1 action in 2019 with a 3-0 win away at Amiens on Saturday, reaching 50 Championnat points in record time at Stade de la Licorne.

Edinson Cavani opened the scoring with a second half penalty before turning provider for Kylian Mbappe, while it was left to Marquinhos to finish the scoring as Thomas Tuchel’s men eventually eased to victory over their 10-man hosts.


After Wednesday’s unexpected home loss to Guingamp and consequent Coupe de la Ligue exit, PSG had to get back to winning ways. Although the result took its time, it did eventually arrive and Tuchel’s side can now head to Qatar for their midseason training camp with the setback behind them. A clean sheet is always a plus, as is two from three games across all competitions, in a decent start to 2019. Meanwhile Cavani scoring one and assisting another should do wonders for his confidence.


Although it was not an attractive opening 45 minutes, PSG eventually hit their stride and picked Amiens apart. The home side losing Khaled Adenon to a red card after 66 minutes helped, but Les Parisiens were much better in the second 45 than they were in the first.

Manager rating out of 10

7 — Tuchel went with a logical starting XI, cobbling together a midfield as best as he could and although it was not pretty, his starters and substitutes combined to get the job done.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Alphonse Areola, 6 — Made one crucial first-half save and was otherwise alert to record his second clean sheet in three outings.

DF Thomas Meunier, 5 — Still not functioning at maximum capacity, it was still a solid enough showing that contributed to the eventual shutout.

DF Marquinhos, 7 — Capped a commanding performance with a goal towards the end and continues to show his versatility and maturity under Tuchel.

DF Thiago Silva (c), 6 — Solid enough at the back, but it was Marquinhos who led the way on the evening.

DF Juan Bernat, 5 — Played his part in a mean defensive display but didn’t have to do anything extraordinary over the 90 minutes.

MF Angel Di Maria, 5 — Provoked the penalty for Cavani’s opener and was an occasional creative threat until he was withdrawn after 70 minutes with job done.

MF Dani Alves, 5 — Typically energetic but not much more than that as Tuchel filled holes in his midfield any way he could.

Cavani, left, and Mbappe provided the spark yet again as PSG thrashed Amiens in Paris.

MF Marco Verratti, 6 — Technically superior when he got on the ball, he drifted in and out of the match before he was taken off with 15 minutes to go.

MF Julian Draxler, 7 — He stepped up to fill the creative void left by Neymar and his teammates were happy to follow his lead, which saw him provide for Marquinhos towards the end.

FW Kylian Mbappe, 6 — Although it remains a slow start to 2019, he took his second half goal very well and was regularly a target for heavy-handed defensive treatment.

FW Edinson Cavani, 6 — A goal and an assist after a shaky start must go down as a decent recovery. Furthermore, it gives him something to work with as PSG build towards an important period of the campaign that requires their key men to be at their best.


MF Moussa Diaby, 6 — Introduced 20 minutes from time, he was bright once again in what appears to be his best role for now.

DF Layvin Kurzawa, NR — Given another 15 minutes to build up his match fitness, he looks closer to being useful for Tuchel after a lengthy absence.

FW Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, NR — Handed 10 minutes towards the end in place of Mbappe, he added physical presence but not much else.

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