Manchester United produced the performance and the result Ole Gunnar Solskjaer so desperately needed to pick up a deserved 3-0 win over Tottenham on Saturday evening.
United came into the Premier League match in disarray following their 5-0 thrashing by Liverpool last weekend.
Solskjaer spent the entire week fielding questions about his future at the club after a disorganised, disjointed and embarrassing performance.
And while those questions have not been completely answered, his side’s performance against Spurs provided many positives in a true bounce-back victory.
Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring with a crisply-struck volley from Bruno Fernandes’ pass to send United in 1-0 up at the break.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side looked uninspired in front of their unhappy fans and offered little in response, with Ben Davies’ header over from a corner and an offside Son Heung-min chance the sum of their efforts.
Spurs were forced to pay when Fernandes and Ronaldo combined to send Edinson Cavani through to make it 2-0 with a delicate finish over Hugo Lloris.
Marcus Rashford then came off the bench to combine with fellow substitute Nemanja Matic to make it 3-0 with a clinical finish as the match ended to a chorus of “We want Nuno out”.
Solskjaer will have been delighted it was not his name being chanted.
Here are the four things Solskjaer did well to get the result he needed so badly.
1.Experience over youth
Solskjaer was under huge pressure coming into this game, having sustained a good five days of flak from fans and pundits alike.
He had to make changes of some sort, but the decision to change the formation from his usual 4-2-3-1 to 5-2-1-2 was still a bold one.
Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka – the most frequent lightning rods of criticism – were all retained, but the tweak in system saw the full-backs pushed up the pitch as wing-backs.
Out went Mason Greenwood and Rashford and in came Cavani and Raphael Varane in a clear suggestion that Solskjaer was putting his faith in experience over youth.
Cavani dovetailed nicely with Ronaldo and the duo’s combination for the second goal had composure and quality written all over it.
You could say Solskjaer was lucky to come up against an unambitious Tottenham side, however, there can be no doubt that United looked more solid in the new shape.
Solskjaer found a way to play his attacking stars while remaining pragmatic in a big match – and for that he deserves some credit.
2.Sticking with Ronaldo
It would have taken a very brave manager to drop Ronaldo for a game of this magnitude. In truth it was never going to happen, given the high stakes of the match.
But the arguments over Ronaldo’s destabilising effect on the side have only grown louder in the past few weeks, with good reason.
Ronaldo is not the player he used to be. He is not interested in pressing or tracking back and his presence at the top of the team can be frustrating to his team-mates.
Yet his goal in the first half offered a reminder – if it were needed – of his remaining qualities.
The 36-year-old’s movement and technique to smash home past Lloris from Fernandes’ pass was exceptional and an example of the type of quality probably only he can offer.
3.The McFred axis
Defensive midfield is the single biggest ongoing gripe for Manchester United fans. And while Scott McTominay and Fred may not be the holding midfield partnership for the long-term future, they did play well against Tottenham.
Solskjaer doesn’t have many options available in the engine room. Only Matic, or perhaps Donny van de Beek, could really lay claim to a spot in the side.
But after the thrashing handed out by Liverpool, where the side were constantly at sixes and sevens, this was a reassuring return to some solidity.
As well as a much better positional sense, McTominay offered some drive going forward while Fred even tested Lloris with a long-range shot in the first half.
A defensive midfielder should still be on the shopping list in 2022, but the current players held up well under pressure in north London.