16th December 2018: the day Jose Mourinho's position at Man Utd became untenable. His United side had been, quite frankly, embarrassed away at Anfield. Despite there being no shame in losing to Jurgen Klopp's juggernaut this season, 'there are ways to lose football matches' (in the words of Paul Merson).
It was yet another substandard display; something the United faithful had become accustomed to watching with unerring regularity. A performance that was devoid of any confidence, in turn, allowing Liverpool to out-run, over-power and out-manoeuvre Mourinho's lacklustre XI. The final score of 3-1 flattered United in truth, requiring a howler from Alisson to provide any sniff of a goalscoring opportunity.
It was clear, at this point, Mourinho's days were alarmingly numbered.
With all due respect, it wasn't a Huddersfield or Cardiff side that are within their rights to 'park the bus' at Anfield attempting to steal a point. This was Manchester United, a powerhouse of world football and a global brand that's foundations are built on free-flowing, attacking football.
Something had to give. The damage done to the United camp looked irreparable and Mourinho was duly sacked two days later. Ed Woodward wasted no time in appointing an interim manager, but how was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - the boss that couldn't last a year in the Cardiff job - meant to clean up the gigantic mess left in Mourinho's wake?
Well, he had three problems to address if he wanted to land the job on a permanent basis - all of which he's achieved with resounding success:
- Recreate a brand of football synonymous with Manchester United.
- Resurrect the career of club-record signing Paul Pogba.
- Win football matches.
1. Under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson, Man Utd developed a brand of attacking football that has become synonymous with the club. Since the Scotsman's departure, neither David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho have been able to uphold these traditional values and implement of style of play to appease the Old Trafford faithful.
Enter Solskjaer. It took him, approximately, one game to recapture the magic. Five goals scored by United for the first time since Ferguson. But it wasn't just the flurry of goals, it was the nature of them. Anthony Martial netted United's third of the evening following a passage of play that was reminiscent of years gone by. A free-flowing move involving some neat one-touch play that sliced the Bluebirds defence open, allowing Martial to score with a deft finish.
The transformation was astonishing.
The revival of United's philosophy continued with impressive wins over Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Newcastle, Reading and most notably, Tottenham. Marcus Rashford's strike against Spurs encapsulated all of Solskjaer's impressive work with a counter attack of old to prove Manchester United had undeniably been reconfigured to devastating effect under the Norwegian's management.
2. So much of the furore surrounding Mourinho's ill-fated 'third season syndrome' was based on his continued feud with the enigmatic Paul Pogba. It was clear for all to see that Mourinho and Pogba's inflated egos clashed with considerable force, effectively spelling the end for the Portuguese boss.
As is so often the case in modern day football, player power reigned supreme as Pogba remains at the club and is now the driving force behind United's success.
Pogba's performance in the Spurs game at the weekend was yet another reminder why Utd parted with £89m for his services. It was a superb display that exemplified his importance to the side moving forward. His pace, power and passing range were just a few of his qualities on show that had gone missing under Mourinho.
The ex-Juventus man is back to his best, four goals and four assists already under Solskjaer exemplify the argument to great effect. The Frenchman is important to Utd both on and off the field, meaning if Solskjaer is to keep Pogba happy and performing to the standards we've seen, his cause for a permanent role can only grow increasingly likely in the eyes of Ed Woodward.
3. Although, as per the aim of football, winning matches is important, it was arguably not the most pressing matter for Solskjaer to contemplate. For example, Claude Puel proceeds to obtain increasing pressure at Leicester, despite the Foxes lying in eighth place.
The point is, winning games in no longer the be all and end all of modern day football as punters demand so much more from their beloved sides.
Solskjaer's results are, however, incredibly impressive, and more than speak for themselves. Six games, six wins. A record that only the great Sir Matt Busby can match when embarking on a managerial reign at Old Trafford. He must be given immense credit for obtaining these results which can only strengthen the argument his interim role should be made permanent.
Solskjaer was admittedly offered a beneficial run of fixtures to begin his reign, but they were by no means 'gimmes'. Pessimists will continue to bark 'Mourinho would have won those games too...' But judging by the draws with the dour 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace and the disastrous defeat to Brighton, it's highly possible that he wouldn't have.
Solskjaer has, put simply, enjoyed a wonderful start to life in charge of Utd. The feel good factor has returned to Old Trafford after it had arguably been distant for the past five seasons. The 'baby-faced assassin' is proving to be just that, as he continues to mastermind a miraculous resurrection which, if maintained, should land him the Manchester United job on a permanent basis.