Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Solskjaer faces Barca reality check

Solskjaer faces Barca reality check

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right) takes a selfie with a fan before a match between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou on Saturday. Pau Barrena/afP

Solskjaer faces Barca reality check

OLE Gunnar Solskjaer enjoyed a charmed life as interim Manchester United manager, but Barcelona’s visit to Old Trafford on Wednesday will show him the scale of the task he faces as the new full-time boss.

The Norwegian was rewarded with a three-year deal after dramatically reviving United’s fortunes since taking caretaker charge in December, lifting them back into contention for a top-four place and transforming the mood at the club.

The highlight of his reign so far was a dramatic 3-1 away victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 in the Champions League, which enabled United to overturn a 2-0 first-leg defeat to reach the quarter-finals on away goals.

Solskjaer has given his creative players licence to attack, with Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford let off the leash to devastating effect.

But some of the gloss has come off in recent weeks, with three defeats in four matches badly denting United’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League and dumping them out of the FA Cup.

Solskjaer, who famously scored the winning goal for United against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final in Barcelona, was upbeat after drawing the Spanish league leaders in the quarter-finals last month, before he was confirmed as the new long-term boss.

“We want these games against the biggest clubs and the biggest teams. We had the final against them in 2009 and 2011 [both of which Barca won] and the semi-final in 2008 when Scholesy [Paul Scholes] scored,” Solskjaer said.

“It’s these games our fans and this club crave. We are looking forward to this one.”

Worryingly for Solskjaer, though, some of United’s familiar failings under Jose Mourinho have returned to haunt them in the weeks since the draw was made.

Poor run

They were unfortunate to lose at Arsenal but appeared short of inspiration in losing twice to Wolves in the FA Cup and the league, while even Solskjaer admitted they did not deserve their solitary win since he was given the permanent job as Watford enjoyed the better of the chances in a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford.

Solskjaer had a free ride when he took over from Mourinho, with morale at a low ebb and the club 11 points off the top four.

Despite recent hiccups, he has had notable success in his short time at the club and ultimately has his sights set higher than finishing in the top four.

“You’ve got to aim high,” he told ESPN. “You cannot aim too low at this club. You’ve got to aim to win titles.

“When I came back here as the manager I thought a lot about what makes a winning team. What does it really take to win on the biggest stage? I’m not one to sit back, rest on my laurels.”

The 46-year-old will probably be forgiven if United fall short against a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona.

But if he fails to reverse the mini-slump and United suffer a heavy defeat to the Spanish champions there is a danger the season could peter out and momentum could be lost.

Questions will be asked as to whether United were too quick to put their trust in a likeable leader and whether Solskjaer has the profile needed to bring in the top-level recruits that United need, particularly in defence, to become serious Premier League and European challengers again.

But he will lead his team out at Old Trafford on Wednesday for their first Champions League quarter-final since 2014 with the same never-say-die attitude he had as a player.

“We’ve got a chance. It’s going to be a tough one. We’ve got a mountain to climb, but we’ve climbed a few mountains before,” said Solskjaer.

MOST VIEWED

  • Rainsy vow to return on Nov 9 dismissed as ‘political warfare’

    An announcement from the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) that its “acting president” Sam Rainsy would return to the Kingdom on November 9 was dismissed on Sunday as “political warfare”. The CNRP made the announcement on Friday after a permanent committee meeting chaired by

  • Official transferred after pointing at car with foot

    The deputy director of the Siem Reap provincial Registration and Driver’s Licence Unit at the Department of Public Works and Transport who last week pointed at the number plate of a car taken in for a technical check with her foot has been transferred.

  • Kingdom rejects VN request

    Cambodia rebuffed Vietnam’s request to provide nationality to its citizens living in Kratie, Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri and Stung Treng provinces, with officials saying law enforcement is the Kingdom’s responsibility. Chheang Vun, the head of the National Assembly’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation,

  • PM sues Rainsy in Paris court

    Prime Minister Hun Sen and Dy Vichea, the deputy chief of the National Police, filed lawsuits against Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), for defamation in a Parisian court on Tuesday. The court action comes after Rainsy,