Manchester United believe the progress Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made at Old Trafford could save them more than £50million on a new centre back this summer.
Solskjaer has restored United’s attacking identity since taking over as caretaker boss, leading the club into contention for a top-four finish and the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
But the former United striker has also massively improved the team’s defensive record on the way to winning 14 of his 19 games in charge.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has overseen a great transformation in Manchester United’s defence
|UNDER MOURINHO||UNDER SOLSKJAER|
|Club||Games||Clean sheets||Goals conceded per game||Club||Games||Clean sheets||Goals conceded per game|
|Man City||17||8||0.6||Man Utd||13||5||0.8|
STARTING CENTRE BACK PARTNERSHIPS
Starting centre back partnerships – full records
Lindelof and Jones – P6 W5 D1 L0, Clean sheets 2, Goals conceded 5
Bailly and Lindelof – P4 W3 D0 L1, Clean sheets 1, Goals conceded 4
Darmian and Jones – P1 W1 D0 L0, Clean sheets 1, Goals conceded 0
Jones and Smalling – P1 W1 D0 L0 Clean sheets 1 Goals conceded 0
Lindelof and Smalling – P4 W3 D1 L0 Clean sheets 2, Goals conceded 3
Lindelof – 14 Jones – 8 Smalling – 5 Bailly – 4 Darmian – 1
Clean sheets (from a total of 7)
Lindelof – 5 Jones – 4 Smalling – 3 Bailly – 1 Darmian – 1
Lindelof – 12 (in 14 appearances) Jones – 5 (in 8 appearances) Smalling – 3 (in 5 appearances) Bailly – 4 (in 4 appearances) Darmian – 0 (in 1 appearance)
Since Solskjaer returned to the club, United are second in the Premier League to Liverpool based on goals conceded and clean sheets. That compares to 16th when Mourinho was axed in December.
The Portuguese coach made no secret of his desire to bring in a new centre back despite United spending a combined £61m on Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly while he was manager.
Indeed, Mourinho’s demand for the club to sign an experience central defender such as Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng or Toby Alderweireld of Tottenham last summer became a major factor in his deteriorating relationship with the Old Trafford hierarchy.
United sources insisted they would have paid £100m for a player of the calibre of Real Madrid star Raphael Varane, but were reluctant to spend £50m on Boateng or Alderweireld when both players were about to turn 30 and had questionable injury records.
However, the success of Solskjaer and his coaching team in tightening up the defence over the last three months means that buying a new centre back this summer is no longer a priority.
Instead United are more likely to invest the money in other positions, such as a new right back and central midfielder, happy in the knowledge that Solskjaer is getting the best out of the central defenders at his disposal.
No-one has benefitted more than Lindelof, practically written off under Mourinho, who has become the cornerstone of United’s defence and played in 16 of Solskjaer’s 19 games.
The Swede has been more commanding and composed, forming effective partnerships with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Bailly. United’s other centre back, Marcos Rojo, has not played since sustaining a shin injury in Mourinho’s penultimate game away to Valencia.
Lindelof paid tribute to the impact Solskjaer has made on the team, saying: ‘Since he arrived, he and the staff around him have been talking lots in training about the things we want to improve and how we want to play.
‘That’s very important for a player to know exactly what your coach wants. Then it’s easier to go out on the pitch and do that. It’s always good to have a structure and a plan you’re working towards.
The club would have paid £100m for a player of the calibre of Real Madrid star Raphael Varane
‘He knows the club very well and that was one of the first things he said to us; identity might be a good word to use, but I think he’s been very clear what he wants from us and what type of football he wants us to play.
‘He spoke to me and told me to do the things that I’m good at, to show my abilities and to express myself on the pitch. That was very nice to hear.’
It is one of the reasons Solskjaer will be rewarded with a long-term contract at United with the club close to confirming his appointment on a permanent basis.
‘If he gets the job, I will be pleased,’ added Lindelof. ‘It’s not my job to decide in the end but, of course, I’m very happy with the things that he has done since he’s arrived. I have nothing bad to say about him.
‘He’s a legend of the club so he knows everything about being here as a player. When he speaks you always listen. He knows what he’s talking about because he has been through it all. That’s also a very good thing to have.’
Sweden defender Victor Lindelof has thrived since Solskjaer has taken charge at Old Trafford