manchestereveningnews: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has identified Manchester United’s 3-1 FA Cup win at Arsenal as the turning point in their defensive discipline.
United shipped 29 goals in their 17 Premier League matches under Jose Mourinho, one more than they conceded in the entirety of 2017-18. Under Solskjaer, United have sieved just nine goals in 14 matches and kept seven clean sheets and their goal difference – zero at the time of Mourinho’s dismissal – is currently +17.
Ashley Young and Luke Shaw have remained at full-back in a back four, while Victor Lindelof has retained his good form under Jose Mourinho during the fledgling Solskjaer reign. Phil Jones has been Lindelof’s primary partner, having started eight games, Eric Bailly has lined up in four and Chris Smalling in three.
Smalling recovered from a two-month injury lay-off with a foot injury earlier this month and United have kept three clean sheets with the 29-year-old in defence on Solskjaer’s watch.
United have kept out their last four domestic opponents and have not conceded in the league since Chris Wood headed past David de Gea in the 2-2 draw with Burnley on January 29. De Gea was in inspired form during the second-half of the spirited win at Tottenham last month and Solskjaer said that game – as well as the breakaway defeat of Arsenal in the FA Cup fourth round – convinced him to reinforce the United side’s structure.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on the structure and the shape” Solskjaer explained. “How we defend, because the first few games didn’t give too many challenges in that respect.
“But then we went to Arsenal, and you could see how we were pulled all over the place in midfield and our poor back four were like battering rams.
“The midfield shape has improved a lot, which has helped the back four to play as a back four and not be scattered all over the place.
“It’s principles. My principle has never been for you to follow him; I’ve always played and coaches with a zonal system. I’ve not been a fan of man-marking systems.”