Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hasn’t overused the word ‘philosophy’ as Louis van Gaal did in his initial months at the Old Trafford helm.
But the current Manchester United manager has very clear aims and objectives, both on the pitch and in terms of the players he wants the club to recruit.
We are seeing the latter borne out in United’s transfer dealings this summer, but until recent games against Perth Glory and Leeds United in pre-season, there had been little sign of the former. United’s initial upsurge in form after Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho at the turn of the year was built more on motivation than meticulous tactical planning, despite a slight shift to a quicker counter-attacking style.
Now with a full summer under his belt as United boss, Solskjaer is beginning to put his stamp on this United side.
And it appears his on-pitch philosophy can be split into three sections.
The first part is all about a quick transition from the centre of the park — and it involves Paul Pogba, as United’s most talented midfield passer, to do it properly.
Manchester United 4-0 Leeds: Reaction
The second is all about pace, width and overlapping full-backs. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James were both signed with this in mind. Similarly, Diogo Dalot, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard will all be heavily used in the coming season.
And the third is about pace again, through the middle from a young striker with a clinical eye for goal. Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood best encapsulate this element.
So how heartening it would have been for Solskjaer to see this plan come to fruition within seven minutes of United’s most recent pre-season contest against Leeds.
As he’d most likely imagine, it started from a defence-splitting ball from Pogba. The Frenchman may currently find himself at the centre of a transfer saga linking him with an exit, amid interest from Real Madrid and Juventus, but he’s been in fine pre-season form and showing no signs of being unsettled. If Solskjaer can keep him — and keep him playing balls like the one to Wan-Bissaka against Leeds — United can only thrive.
The former Crystal Palace youngster reads the game superbly, and he was already on his bike by the time Pogba had played the pass. ‘The Spider’ used his long legs to United’s attacking advantage this time, beating his marker Jack Harrison to cross first-time towards the six-yard box.
And there was the onrushing Greenwood, with the instincts of a veteran finisher, to meet the squad ball with a finish into the bottom corner. 1-0 inside seven minutes and a plan coming together.
Solskjaer admitted Greenwood still has work to do on his finishing, but it is the pace of the 17-year-old and Rashford in those central positions that the Norwegian is keen to utilise.
“It’s important for strikers to get that goal,” Solskjaer said. “Even though we always know he’s capable of scoring goals and maybe that’s a weight off his shoulders. I think his movement, his cleverness, he’s going to be a very good player, the young boy.”
There can be no doubting Pogba and the 26-year-old’s ability to play his part in the system. Nor Wan-Bissaka, albeit the full-back is more renowned for his defensive skills, though has played as a winger, as Solskjaer has noted.
It may be that the United boss is finally getting what he wants from a tactical perspective.