Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saluted a tactical masterstroke five days in the making after Manchester United produced the perfect response to their thrashing against Liverpool with a resounding win at Tottenham.
Solskjaer’s United travelled to north London knowing nothing other than a victory would do after Sunday’s humiliating 5-0 defeat against their arch-rivals at Old Trafford, and his players rose emphatically to the challenge.
The Norwegian accommodated the returning Raphael Varane by switching to a 3-4-3 formation at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and started Cristiano Ronaldo alongside Edinson Cavani in attack, tactical selections which stifled Spurs and ultimately won United the game.
Ronaldo volleyed United into a first-half lead and set up Cavani for a second midway through the second half before substitute Marcus Rashford put the seal on a crucial 3-0 victory during which Spurs failed to register a shot on target.
Speaking after the game, the United boss revealed the decision to switch systems was borne out of a team meeting in the immediate aftermath of the defeat to Liverpool and outlined exactly where it worked.
“The performance was really good from the start, it was really good from Tuesday morning, when we worked on something that we felt and hoped and thought was going to work, and it did,” Solskjaer said.
“Every man to a tee did their jobs and we kept a clean sheet and kept the ball away from David [de Gea], he didn’t have a save to make.
“There is many things behind the tactics we used. One was solidity, we managed to get Raphael [Varane] slap bang in the middle of the back four because we needed a clean sheet.
“We needed to control the game with the ball and we did. We got Edinson and Cristiano to play together as a front two, and we got width from the wing-backs.
“If you change to a back three and you don’t get a result you are going to be scrutinised, but we felt it worked and the coaches have done a very good job to put that in place.”
Ole: Ronaldo and Cavani experience came through
The experience of Solskjaer’s senior players was needed more than ever in a week during which Manchester United were required to do some serious soul searching in the wake of the debacle against Liverpool.
The United boss confirmed tactics and shape were not the only things nurtured during a challenging week off the field but also the relationship between veteran strikers Ronaldo and Cavani, which culminated with an emphatic attacking performance at Tottenham.
“Ronaldo and Cavani’s experience shone through today; both of them led the line really well all week, from training on Tuesday morning to tonight,” Solskjaer added.
“[Starting both of them] is something we might do again later but it’s something that worked tonight, that’s for sure.
“Both of them have been really good. Tuesday morning’s training session by Edinson Cavani is probably the best I’ve seen by an individual since I’ve come here. He led the line, led by example to everyone, and showed how to change the mood and the performance.
“The two of them were told early on they were going to play up front as a two and they have been like two peas in a pod. They have been really close, and it worked today; two excellent goals by the two of them.”
Solskjaer savours moment with fans
After a week like no other off the field and heightened the pressure on his position as manager, Solskjaer basked in a victory he dedicated to United’s fans, who he claimed continue to support him despite local reports to the contrary.
“When you win a game – every game – you are so happy because that is what you work all week for,” Solskjaer said.
“We came in Tuesday morning, worked really hard this week on the tactics and mentality, and getting everyone ready for this difficult game. We put a shift in, of course, but it’s been pleasing to work with the players.
“It’s great going over to your fans at the end of the game and celebrating with them because they deserved this as well. The most important thing is that myself, the players, and the fans connect together.
“It’s hard to be sitting as a local journalist and writing about your own fans singing for your manager. That is a dig at someone who has been wanting to portray a different story. These fans a brilliant.
“It’s been a difficult week for the players, for the fans, for the club, for me. I’ve stayed away from most of the noise, but you know what’s happening out there and that you have to put a performance up. Every time you lose a game it’s the worst feeling as a coach or player, you want the next game to come.”