Manchester United have redefined themselves under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the Premier League’s ultimate counter-attacking team.
Prior to the Norwegian’s arrival last December, the Red Devils were rock bottom for total fast breaks in 2018/19 under Jose Mourinho (3), but ultimately finished the season with the joint-highest number recorded (21).
Solskjaer’s change in style yielded immediate results at Old Trafford and evoked fond memories of fast-paced Sir Alex Ferguson sides of old.
That impetus eventually faded as the season reached its conclusion, but the former striker has sought to keep the wheels rolling this summer with the acquisition of Daniel James and departure of Romelu Lukaku.
Solskjaer has previously indicated that he holds no misgivings about the Belgian’s move to Inter Milan because, stylistically, his “target man” style clashes with his own tactical approach.
As such, Anthony Martial has been handed back the No 9 jersey and was deployed through the middle with Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard flanking him either side in Man Utd’s 4-0 humbling over Chelsea on Sunday.
The result was an emphatic response to an underwhelming end to the previous campaign, and offers a huge glimpse into the fast break system we can expect from Solskjaer’s side this season.
It makes sense that the Norwegian offloaded Lukaku, as Rashford has so far netted the most fast break goals in the Premier League in 2019 (3), while his second goal against the Blues involved a swift transition which capitalised on Chelsea’s high-line.
No longer will Solskjaer need to try and shoehorn Lukaku into his system, but rather, he now has two adroit forwards in Rashford and Martial – as well as Mason Greenwood – who can seamlessly slot into his system and thrive.
It should also be noted that while Lukaku often carried the perception of a flat-track bully during his stint in the North West, Rashford appears to be anything but, with his last three braces coming against the traditional ‘Big Six’, further vindicating United’s decision to let the Belgian depart.
Each of Marcus Rashford's three braces in the Premier League have come against 'Big Six' opposition:
⚽️⚽️ vs. Arsenal (2016)
⚽️⚽️ vs. Liverpool (2018)
⚽️⚽️ vs. Chelsea (2019) 🆕
Big. Game. Player.™ pic.twitter.com/BP1xkRs1B3
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 11, 2019
One other major indication of how devastating Solskjaer’s fast break machine can be this campaign is James’ debut goal for Man Utd. Signed from Swansea City in the summer, the Red Devils acquired a winger who recorded the third-highest fast breaks per 90 minutes (0.25) in the Championship of any player in 2018/19.
In other words, he is the archetypal counter-attacking player, and his goal against Chelsea this afternoon came as a fast break goal, meaning Man Utd now have the joint-most fast break Premier League goals in 2019 (5) alone.
Man Utd fans should take major encouragement not just by the manner in which they ruthlessly exposed Chelsea, but that Solskjaer has a clear idea of how he wants his side to play, and it appears as though the Red Devils are rediscovering their identity.