Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville says Sunday’s United tactical approach against Tottenham Hotspurs was smart, as he claims the Wembley match was an acid test which he has passed with flying colours.
Neville said this in a Sky Sports podcast after United Manager won by a goal to nil at Wembley, a win which has seen the manager equal Sir Matt Busby’s five league game wins in equally the same number of games.
“Over the last few weeks, since Manchester United appointed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, questions have been asked. Initially it was despair. If you remember when Jose Mourinho was sacked the players were all over the place and he restored what would be a little bit of happiness in that first week. People said there were smiles around the place again.
“As the weeks have gone on you’ve seen more of his imprint on the team in terms of the attacking play and the runs forward. The profile of the team has changed. We talked about it during commentary, gone are Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku from the starting line-up. I said a few years ago on Monday Night Football when Mata was signed that he was a wonderful player, but I thought it was a breach of philosophy. I didn’t think he fitted the profile of a Manchester United player.
“Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is picking the profile of player Manchester United need and that’s players who have the energy to get from box to box quickly and counter-attack with quality. You’ve seen that in the last few weeks.
“At Wembley, it was the acid test. It was the moment where people said could he live in a big game and could he live against the big managers. Second-half I thought it was about spirit, desire and hanging on a little bit. The players were playing for the manager.
“But in the first half, he caught Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham out. There’s no doubt about that.
“They’ve gone to Dubai this week not for a stag party or a bonding session but to work. They went to work. They went to work on fitness, but they also went to work on tactics. In that first-half Manchester United could have been one or two goals up. Tottenham had a couple of chances as well but Manchester United looked really threatening in the channels.
“It reminded me so much of the Liverpool game earlier in the season at Wembley when Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane got in down the sides of the Tottenham centre-backs. It looked to me like Solskjaer had watched that game and thought that’s where I can hurt them.
“It was clever. He proved in that first-half that he can live in a big game against a big manager and a big team.
“In the second half it was different. Spurs adapted, and they came into the game. However, in terms of the test, he’s absolutely passed this test with flying colours.
“It’s now a month later and that performance against Tottenham is real. That’s a proper performance Manchester United have put in and they’ve won it because of really clever tactical play in the first-half that damaged Spurs.”
United are still sixth in the league, level on points with 5th placed Arsenal with only the goal difference separating the sides.