Ole Gunnar Solskjær believes Manchester United are getting their consistency back, pointing to their away form and their last three wins, and presumably not dwelling for too long on the horrendous showing in Istanbul earlier this month.
Most supporters still do not know quite what to expect each time United run out, though their record against Sunday’s opponents, Southampton, is quite impressive and a win at St Mary’s would take them to within a point of Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side with a game in hand.
There are more pressing matters in Solskjær’s in tray than catching up with the Saints, but given that Southampton are considered to have had a good start to the Premier League season while the visitors have been up and down, the United manager would be pleased to see his side back around the European positions.
“The main thing for me is to keep improving, and climbing the table would be a sign of that,” Solskjaer said. “I do feel that we are getting to the right mindset after a difficult start to the season. Generally speaking, teams that are capable of winning the league are the ones that can put good runs together. I don’t know if that will hold true this season because it might be a little more unpredictable than most, but we are starting to show a bit more consistency. I like the way we approach games.”
Part of that has been due to the impact of Bruno Fernandes, who emerged as a de facto leader on the pitch long before he was handed the armband in Paris a month ago. Though his form dipped a little towards the end of last season the midfielder has been back to his best in recent weeks, not only scoring five goals in his last three games but taking it on himself to encourage the players around him to match his high standards, sometimes even berating them if they fall short of expectations.
Solskjær is all in favour of that. “In the heat of the moment people are allowed to air their frustration and be angry for a second or two, but if it is all for the benefit of the team it is soon over and done with,” the United manager said. “They are all out there fighting for one cause, after all. I want my players to take responsibility, even if it means putting others in their place at times when it’s necessary.
“It should never be just the managers and the coaches on the touchlines who shout. Some of the best teams I’ve played in have had a system of inner justice, where things get sorted out on the pitch. If you ask me, the players have reacted really well to what Bruno has been doing.
“There are different types of leaders, some players make a noise, others lead by example, some do both, but once in a while it doesn’t do any harm to take a rollicking when you deserve one.”
United possess other players who can show leadership on the pitch, Solskjær insists, but ever since his arrival in January Fernandes has looked both at home and in charge. “Bruno has had a fantastic impact, he’s not afraid of anything here,” he said. “He’s not just giving out rollickings, he’s also instructing players. He thrives on the pressure moments and we can all learn from his mindset and winning mentality.
“If we are two-nil up, he wants it to be three, if it’s three goals he wants four. He’s always looking for the team to improve, and that’s what I want as well. We all know this is a results business and we all know we made a slow start to the season, but if we can keep improving we will end up with an opportunity.”