Harry Fitzpatrick > After yet another drab 0-0 draw for Manchester United which involved another ‘big 6’ team, questions are being raised over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s mentality when approaching these fixtures. Since their 6-1 home thumping by Spurs, they have not scored in their six consecutive Premier League matches against big six opposition. In their 9 fixtures so far this year against last season’s top 8, they have scored 4 goals (across 3 games), conceded 9 (six of which were in the Spurs game) and been held to a blank 5 times. Four games have been tedious stalemates from what are supposed to be the Premier League’s best games. They have been criticised by pundits and ex-players but Ole seems set in his ways.
In comparison, David Moyes drew lots of criticism for setting up too defensively against an out of form Liverpool in the 3-1 home defeat at the end of January. Despite Liverpool’s performances leading up to that game, they are still reigning champions and the second-best team in England over the past 4 years. People seemed to have forgotten the brilliant displays against the other top teams in last season’s standings. Since this season began, only Manchester City, Liverpool and West Ham United have put 4 past Wolves. Similarly, only Liverpool and ourselves have beaten Leicester by 3 goals all year. Against the other top sides, we have collected 5 points from a possible 27. This is a poor return, but with home games against Arsenal and Chelsea to come there is certainly a decent chance to add to that tally. Man United meanwhile have collected 5 from 7 matches against the traditional big clubs. Is that really much better considering the investment in their squad, and the quality they have all over the pitch. Pogba alone cost Manchester United more money than the entire West Ham starting 11 at the weekend.
This shows to me that Moyes is not scared of taking a game to the big boys. Yes, we set up for the counter, but it is clear for all to see the work that goes into bringing the ball forward once we have won it back. This is not the days of Allardyce. This is also backed up by Moyes’ reluctance to start Benrahma in matches where we aren’t favoured. Fornals is often given the nod due to his fantastic work rate off the ball and his willingness to track back, even if he is partial to a proper attacker’s tackle every so often. Whilst Benrahma certainly adds more flair and creativity to the side, he is clearly more suited to breaking down stubborn defences like he did with his assists against Fulham, Sheffield United and Aston Villa home and away.
Winning against the top clubs was something Moyes always struggled to do at his previous jobs, and he will be hoping to use the experience he gained to help him win a few in the years ahead. He now knows how to beat Mourinho after winning his first match against the Portugal man in 15 attempts two weeks ago. Now he will be hungry for more and he is building a brilliant mentality to do so. The results are not quite there yet but he is building brilliant foundations for creating a big club mentality around the London Stadium.