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Manchester United rediscover their arrogance as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer passes Tottenham test

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Solskjaer passed his first major test as United boss (Picture: Getty)

Sir Alex Ferguson, in surely his briefest team talk ever, once famously declared ‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’ before one of Manchester United’s fixtures with Spurs.

That was during a period of unrivalled dominance and though it was not a matter of disrespect, it spoke volumes of the level of arrogance within United’s camp under the Scot.

That’s subsided in recent years, appearing fleetingly under Louis van Gaal and briefly too under Jose Mourinho.

The thing about arrogance, especially in sporting terms, is that it comes in many forms.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t exactly exude arrogance but the feeling is slowly but surely seeping back into this Manchester United side thanks to his commitment to restoring confidence within his squad.

Solskjaer opted to attack Spurs (Picture: Getty)

It was evident before kick-off against Spurs, when Solskjaer vowed to attack Tottenham at Wembley.

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The Norwegian could easily have dropped Anthony Martial for an extra midfielder, preferring to play Romelu Lukaku up front with Marcus Rashford on the wings.

Instead, he sprung a surprise by playing Rashford and Martial on the wing with Jesse Lingard through the middle.

That brave decision paid dividends at the end of an exhilariting first half when both teams had chances to go ahead.

The opening goal was representative of the progress Solskjaer has made in such a short space of time at Old Trafford. First there was Lingard, pressing Spurs in their own half and intercepting a loose pass from Kieran Trippier. Second was Paul Pogba, playing in a more advanced role and free to express himself, being able to look up and play a pass for a willing, fast striker. Last was Rashford.

Rashford clinically finished before half-time (Picture: Getty)

Solskjaer will tell you he thought about nothing else other than making a good connection on the ball when he was through on goal. Obvious though it may be, the best strikers are able to block out the nose in the moments that matter, showing composure while others panic.

Composure’s not something that you’d have associated with Rashford in his early career.  For all of his easily-recognisable promise, Rashford’s sub-standard finishing has held him back.

On the rare occasion that Jose Mourinho opted to play him through the middle, there was such a clear fuzziness in Rashford’s thinking when clear chances came his way.

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Think of his one-on-one against Young Boys in the Champions League. Rashford’s blistering pace gave him time and space to end a long run without scoring but he blazed over instead of going round the ‘keeper.

Jose Mourinho turned away in disgust, gesturing to his bench as if to say ‘I told you so’.

Maybe it’s Mourinho’s removal and the knowledge that such blame wouldn’t have been placed on him that gave Rashford the confidence to fire United into the lead.

Like against Young Boys, Rashford’s pace up against Jan Vertonghen bought him time but this time was to be no wild effort at goal. Instead, Rashford picked a corner and drilled it in low and hard past Hugo Lloris.

De Gea had to be at his very best to keep a clean sheet (Picture: Getty)

Comparisons can often be futile but it’s no exaggeration to suggest that Rashford would have missed that chance a month ago.

Indeed, it’s unlikely that Pogba would have had a willing runner in Rashford to pick out a month ago and nobody can argue with the changes that Solskjaer has made so far.

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A kind fixture list made for a smooth start for Solskjaer and Spurs posed the first major test of his reign.

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To come through it speaks volumes of the refocusing of minds at the Theatre of Dreams.

United survived an onslaught (PIcture: Getty)

United’s attacking intent made for an open game but Spurs failed to register a shot on target in the first half. That changed after the interval when David De Gea had to be at his very best to deny Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli as Spurs threw the kitchen sink at the Red Devils.

On another day, Spurs could easily have won the game and they certainly had the chances to do so but Pochettino’s men will also know they were up against a transformed side and United threatened to extend their lead at the other end, too.

Perhaps it’s too easy to suggest that United wouldn’t have won this game a month ago and luck – in Spurs’ poor finishing – certainly played a part.

But perhaps then again it’s not. The difference Solskjaer and his backroom staff have made are so evident. So clear that it’s undeniable and futile arguing Mourinho could have done the same.

United fans now feel like they’re watching ‘their’ side again. Even in moments of panic when Spurs were pushing forward, United maintained their willingness to attack.

One game is not enough to judge Solskjaer on but he could not be doing more at this moment in time to strengthen his case for getting the job permanently.

For Spurs, their title dream is surely over and Pochettino will be sweating over Kane’s fitness after he limped off at the final whistle.

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For Solskjaer and United it is six wins from six. Where they were eight points off Arsenal when Mourinho was sacked, they are now level.

MORE: Gary Neville names the three Manchester United players who don’t fit in under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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